Cap Badge

In many areas of the North's political landscape, progress often seems more imagined than real. The potential for peace to develop into something other than the silence of guns and bombs has not been pursued, even less realised.

Processing for political advantage rather than for harmony has done noting to divest the North of its more acrimonious and acerbic character. The parsimony of power splitting and not the generosity of power sharing has bequeathed Northern society a soulless peace.

One area in which progress has been both superficial and skewed is in the criminal justice system where the North's British police have worked sedulously to derail justice. There is a close resemblance between the manner in which the PSNI is dealing with investigations arising out of both the Northern present and its much more volatile and violent past.

Last week in the Belfast High Court, during hearings into inquest procedures, Lord Justice Weir expressed his concerns about delays in bringing the inquests to a conclusion. In the case of Derry IRA volunteer Seamus Bradley, shot dead by British soldiers in 1972, Judge Weir said:
No. More delays. It’s very important given the time frame that we get on with this. All these delays laid out end to end waste time ... This is wearing a bit thin ... Even though the Bloody Sunday Inquiry could locate all the soldiers involved in that, but you can’t find these ones. I find that very difficult to believe. You’ll have to employ a tracing agency like they did for the Bloody Sunday Inquiry. It’s about time we knew who these people are.

In the case of the schoolboy Manus Deery, gunned down by the British as he ate a bag of chips in the same city in 1972 an exasperated Judge Weir admonished Barra McGrory's prosecutors:
You were asked for these in November. Are these manuals being delivered from Taiwan? You have one week to produce these manuals ... I find it very difficult to understand on what basis this is being requested other than to create unproductive delays. A little bit of common sense needs to be shown. I often wonder who suggests these things to these people. This cannot be a case of kicking the can down the road, it’s too old and it needs to be dealt with.

Contrast this to the speed and sense of urgency with which the PSNI set about haring off in pursuit of the Boston College tapes. No kicking the can endlessly down the road there.  The PSNI is instinctively, intuitively and irrevocably incapable of pursuing lines of inquiry that lead back to the state.

There is a clear strategic continuity at play which the change of name from RUC to PSNI has done nothing to offset, something that is apparent in the case of imprisoned republicans, Alec McCrory, Harry Fitzsimons and Colin Duffy. The men have already spent their third consecutive Christmas banged up and their day in court seems no closer. Judge Gordon Kerr told the prosecutor during a bail application by Harry Fitzsimons that:
If the preliminary inquiry is not completed on this occasion you're likely to be faced with a position where delay has been extensive and cannot be tolerated.

It says a lot about the collapse of the republican opposition in the North that British judges rather than erstwhile opponents of the judiciary now figure among the more strident voices to be heard criticising police and prosecutors.

How little was achieved in this area can be gauged by the odyssey of the Director of the Public Prosecution Service, Barra McGrory, who has made monumental career strides but microscopic steps in delivering justice. His real achievement to date has not been to upend the bad practices established by the RUC but to turn on its head, the accomplishments of his late father, PJ, a thorn in the side of, rather than a badge in the cap, the British state.

Justice delivery and Barra McGrory? Hard to see the word association.


  1. The worrying aspect of all this is that there doesn't seem to be any judicial auditing of Ford's accountability as Minister for Justice or should I say desire to audit his office. His focus on cutting the legal aid bill is blinding him, whether consciously or not, to this mismanagement of so called justice.
    None of the political representatives at Stormont seem to be willing to call him to account or even view any of this mismanagement as being just that.....political expediency for the sake of peace irrespective of how unjust their actions will prove to be years later! and that is also a factor....none of this will come to the fore until years have passed!

  2. Niall

    Would it not be better that lawyers do without a few luxuries than vulnerable people on welfare? Make no mistake lawyers have no conscience about using vulnerable clients to fight Ford for more money. One can be as bad as the other -lawyers are extremely well paid despite their cries of poverty whereas the consequences to people in jail are that they remain there even if they do not deserve to be.

    I recall Barra McGrory back in 1992 in perhaps the only protest he has ever made against the state. Legal Aid changed its rules to re-pay lawyers after they obtain court transcripts rather than pay them in advance-- cases were backlogging because prisoners could not get a copy of crucial transcripts that would allow them to move on -the lawyers were prolonging cases and some of their clients were staying in jail longer than they might have -all because the lawyers thought they were being hard done by. The consequences for people in prison is that they stayed there because lawyers were not being paid quick enough -they were not being paid any less

    Also back then lawyers went on strike because Derry lawyers had the inconvenience to travel to Coleraine Court House because repairs to Derry Court House were taking too long. Lawyers have never went on strike against injustice, beatings in Castlereagh or that their colleagues could be murdered with state involvement. So you should reserve your sympathy for more worthy causes than well paid lawyers.

  3. Christy,
    I think you have completely misjudged my comment. The point I am trying to make is that Ford is sleeping in while miss-carriages of justice are passing him by. His focus on the legal aid bill, irrespective of its moral effects on lawyers and their case load, is having a detrimental effect on what people’s initial, and let’s be honest here – mostly nationalist people’s - expectations of what a minister of Justice is supposed to oversee. He is supposed to ensure that justice is seen to be done.
    The disgraceful imprisonment of people, both on remand and post-trial on highly questionable evidence and on no evidence at all, is besides extending the life-cycle impression that nothing has changed, it is blatantly branding him as a total failure with regards to the administration of justice. His office independence is seriously tarnished.
    He appears to consciously be avoiding these miss-carriages and is therefore unqualified for the post. He is mainly carrying on what existed pre-establishment of this post. The status quo has continued. The question is why? Why do we allow this Unionist supporter of what Britain has decreed to be justice here to only face questions on the legal aid bill? Why are we not consistenly challenging him, which in turn would challenge McGrory and his team, on these issues of injustice also. He needs to be brought to account and not allowed to meander the public’s perception off down the swanee on some issue of legal aid....that can be sorted out after justice is seen to be working at an acceptable level which at present it isn’t.
    People who are fighting these injustices need to start to question his approach to the exercising of justice and questioning those political parties that support him. Otherwise this will continue and so will the miss-carriages.
    I certainly do not support greed of the public purse irrespective of what profession is accused.

  4. Niall

    Yes I did misread what your were trying to say. You completely misunderstand Ford's role -he is an administrator not an adjudicator. He budgets to make sure that there are people operating phones, photocopiers or paying the heat and electric bills to ensure the courts are functional. Judges do the rest. He does have some powers above his ability which he are often challenged for what he has done or failed to do.

    The PSNI, Prison and Prosecution Services are agencies he is responsible for. His budgetary interest is but one reason he defends the abusive actions of these agencies when they do something wrong -denying there are any miscarriages of justice is one of his ministerial objectives.

    "People who are fighting these injustices need to start to question his approach to the exercising of justice and questioning those political parties that support him."

    It might interest you to know that in December 2015 he was served with a summons for covering up for prosecutorial misconduct. Using false evidence in a legal case to pervert the course of justice and obtaining a judgment in error (by deceit). And, if Solicitor Kevin Winters is to be believed Ford was also involved in attempting to intimidate and discredit him in the eyes of his clients. I understand Mr Winters has made a record of his concerns for his "personal security" with the Irish Dept of Foreign Affairs and at the UN. The issue of judicial quietism when lawyers are threatened or killed has been raised in the papers in how that impacts upon the administration of justice.

    There have, over the years, been numerous attempts made to prevent this action from happening and it has been no easy matter to get it this far. The Lord Chief Justice has appointed Mr Justice Deeny to handle the case. If such a case had no realistic chance of success then the Lord Chief Justice would not have done what he has done but he was sufficiently persuaded by the evidence available. However there is no guarantee that the case will succeed in open court because I am but one individual and, as of yesterday, there are now a total of 8 lawyers (QC'c, Junior Barristers and Solicitors) opposing the action. I hope I can count on your support?