Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill published

As we noted earlier, the British government today published their proposed legislation for suspects wanted for terrorist activity prior to 1998. The proposed legislation The Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill, is available here[PDF file]. Additionally, as previously mentioned, Irish Minister for Justice has announced that, according to this RTÉ report, “The [Irish] Government is to establish a new Eligibility Body to look at the cases of people wanted for paramilitary offences committed before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.”As described by the NIO statement

The legislation sets out the two-stage process whereby individuals may apply for a certificate of eligibility and be brought before a special tribunal.

The scheme covers offences committed in relation to terrorism and the affairs of Northern Ireland before the Belfast Agreement. This includes offences committed in any part of the UK.

The scheme will be open to those who are on the run for relevant offences and to those charged or convicted of such offences during the period of the scheme.

The criteria for eligibility for the scheme are:

the person does not support a specified organisation;
the person is not concerned or likely to be concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism;
the person has not been convicted of a terrorist-related offence committed on or after 10th April 1998;
that no sentence of imprisonment for a term of five years or more has been imposed on the person on conviction of an offence committed on or after 10 April 1998.

Applications will be made to a certification commissioner and eligibility will be determined according strict criteria. Certificates can be cancelled by the Secretary of State if their terms are broken. Challenges to decisions of the certification commissioner and the Secretary of State will take place before specially appointed Appeals Commissioners.

The certification commissioner will have an explicit obligation to provide a liaison to victims and provide information, where possible, about relevant cases.

The certificate will identify the offences to which the certificate applies. It does not apply generally, but only to the offences listed on the certificate.

The certificate will grant the person exemptions from certain police powers, including arrest, questioning and remand, in relation to listed offences. The exemptions will have little effect for anyone who qualifies because they have been charged with an offence; the investigation for that offence will be complete, and investigations into other offences will be allowed to continue.

Any prosecution for a listed offence will take place in a Special Tribunal set up under this legislation. Prosecutions will be brought by a Special Prosecutor and the normal prosecution tests will apply. The Special Tribunal will have all the powers and procedures of the Crown Court sitting without a jury. The defendant will not have to attend the trial, but otherwise the trial will follow the same pattern as a normal trial on indictment.

The Special Prosecutor will have an explicit obligation to provide a liaison to victims during the course of any trial.

Conviction and sentence before the Special Tribunal may be appealed before a Special Appeals Tribunal, also established by this legislation.

In the event of a conviction, the person will be eligible to receive a licence. The terms of the licence are similar to those under the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 (the Early Release Scheme). A person given a life sentence will not be granted a licence if he is deemed to be a danger to the public. No licence can be granted until the person complies with requirements in relation to providing fingerprints and non-intimate samples.

The licences will be subject to suspension and revocation if the conditions are broken, in the same way as Early Release Scheme licences.

Conditions for holding a licence are:

that the person does not support a specified organisation;
that he is not concerned or likely to be concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism;
that he has not been convicted of a terrorist-related offence committed on or after 10th April 1998;
that no sentence of imprisonment for a term of five years or more has been imposed on him on conviction of an offence committed on or after 10 April 1998;
that the person has not at any time been a supporter of an organisation which was not a specified organisation at the time of the grant of a licence but has become a specified organisation.