Legislation: hasty and victim unfriendly

For Sinn Fein, the business of the OTRs is ‘just a bit of housekeeping’ left over from the IRA’s apparently conditional decision to decommission the bulk, if not all, of its weapons. But Brian Walker thinks that in its haste for closure the British government may have miscalculated on a number of issues.

The first is the failure to set a deadline of say a year for an offender to come forward to seek a pardon. Without a deadline, why should anyone except the most homesick of exiled OTRs ever come forward at all?

The second is the failure to insist that applicants should appear in person to answer the charges before the special tribunal of retired county court judges from England and Wales and Northern Ireland.

The danger also arises that defendants will not need to enter a plea, knowing that refusal means an automatic “not guilty” plea. All their lawyers need to do to secure amnesty without admitting guilt is to rubbish the Crown case and plead lack of prosecution evidence. No plea, no guilt, no stain on their character. Neat. Not at all what Mr Blair intended, we must assume.

The third objection is the failure to set up a proper Crown court – perhaps because serving Northern Ireland High Court judges would have nothing to do with what they may regard as an adulteration of the judicial process. Lord Chief Justice Kerr owes it to the public to make the position of the judiciary clear.

Although it was not quite the question he was asked, Martin McGuinness’s response on Daily Ireland this morning (sound file) when he said he did not know who or how many people would avail of the mechanism, was consistent with the nature of the proposed legislation.