The BBC reports that the Prime Minister David Cameron has announced a judicial review of the operation of the controversial administrative scheme to deal with so-called “on the runs” which was highlighted in the recent collapse of the John Downey case. From the BBC report
Mr Cameron told a Downing Street press conference: “I agree with the first minister of Northern Ireland that after the terrible error of the Downey case it is right to get to the bottom of what happened.
“The case has already been referred to the Police Ombudsman, and as the first minister has said we should have a full independent examination of the whole operation of this scheme.
“We will appoint an independent judge to produce a full public account of the operation of this administrative scheme to determine whether any other letters were sent in error.
“The judge will have full access to government files and to government officials.”
Mr Cameron said “it is important to set out the facts of what has happened”.
“When we came to power in 2010, we inherited a process where letters were sent, setting out the factual position on whether or not some individuals were wanted for questioning by the police.
“This process continued under this government. There was never any amnesty or guarantee of immunity for anyone, and there isn’t now.”
Suspect the Stormont crisis is over.
— Ken Reid (@KenReid_utv) February 27, 2014
Adds And a further statement from the NI Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers
The letters did not amount to immunity, exemption or amnesty from arrest. The letters made this clear.
That remains the case. No recipient of such a letter should be in any doubt that if evidence emerges in the future in connection with terrorist offences committed before the Belfast Agreement they will be liable for arrest and prosecution.
It was on this basis that the current government in May 2010 agreed that the list of names submitted by Sinn Fein to the previous administration could continue to be checked.
If at any time we had been presented with a scheme that in any way amounted to immunity, exemption or amnesty we would have stopped that scheme – consistent with our opposition to the previous government’s Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill in 2005.
We have always believed in the application of the rule of law and that where the evidential test is met of involvement in terrorism should be subject to due process – whether that person is in possession of a letter or would be eligible for early release under the terms of the Belfast Agreement.
We will take whatever steps that are necessary to make clear, to all recipients of letters arising from the administrative scheme, in a manner that will satisfy the Courts and public, that any letters issued cannot be relied upon to avoid questioning or prosecution for offences where information or evidence is now or later becomes available. [added emphasis]
I should also make it clear that, to my knowledge, this government did not inform either the First Minister or the Northern Ireland Justice Minister of this scheme.