NI Human Rights Commission barks.. but can it bite?

Whether the NI Human Rights Commission can actually influence the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill brings into question whether it should be able to.. and, as the Newsletter reports, the government is hinting that there may be some changes, although there’s a distinct lack of detail on what those changes will be.. but for now I’ll focus on what the Chief Commissioner Professor Monica McWilliams has said – “the commission regards the Bill in its current form as incompatible with the state’s obligations under international human rights standards.”

  • Belfast Gonzo

    There’s a lack of detail, but not about one issue that looks set for change (and has been heavily flagged from the start) – the appearance (or lack) of the fugitive in court.

    This is just one of the articles in which the NIO basically accepts there will be changes: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/story.jsp?story=672874

    Quite how the Government intends to deal with the OTR’s ‘appearance’ remains to be seen, but it’s clear that they’re about to do something on it.

    It’s interesting that Monica McWilliams is taking up this case (rather than the Victim’s Commissioner, since that is who McWilliams is primarily voicing concern for), and I would also like to know if the current OTR legislation is actually legal under international human rights law.

  • Pete Baker

    It is the only detail that has, as you say Gonzo, been heavily flagged since the start.. but I’m not convinced that it’s a significant detail.. despite the attempts to portray it as a major compromise.

  • heck

    I hope this applies to the security services as well. I have no objection to them being included in any amnesty as long as we find out what they did.

    Give them 1 year to come forward, tell what the did, and get absolution. After that hold and investigation and prosecute those who were less that fortright.

    An this applies to senior civil servants and politicans as well.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    I think it IS a significant compromise, actually.

    The News Letter report said:

    In the end, the Government agreed to only one major concession – to reconsider that part of the draft law which does not require terrorist suspects to appear at the special tribunal hearing the case against them.

    There will also be Government reflection on some more minor clauses.

    This suggests that the most major change is that OTRs will have to appear in court, whereas under the Government’s d(r)aft proposals, they wouldn’t.

    The principle of rectifying the ‘anomoly’ of OTRs was more-or-less conceded by most parties some time ago, even though it is clearly outside the remit of the Agreement.

    In the debate over ‘how it is done’ rather than ‘should it be done’, this issue was mentioned most often and all parties are agreed on the change (apart from SF obviously).

    I’m not sure why you think it’s so insignificant.

    Nevertheless, it appears the Government has acted in haste over the legislation.

    Monica McWilliams highlighted a few areas of concern for her:

    * preventing effective investigations of human rights abuses

    * denying “the position and rights of victims in the process”

    * impeding the right to fair trial, and

    * undermining the independence of the criminal justice system.

    The News Letter has also reported that “David Hanson could not confirm that Attorney General Lord Goldsmith had been consulted in the draft legislation”: http://www.newsletter.co.uk/story/24913

    Perhaps whatever concerns you have will be dealt (eventually) with through the courts, rather than parliament?

  • Belfast Gonzo

    That was to Pete.

  • Pete Baker

    Getting any of them to turn up in court is merely optics, Gonzo, unless evidence is actually presented against them.. and that may not turn out to be in the public interest.. to coin a phrase..

  • Alan

    This is where the state’s duties cut both ways. We have become accustomed to see the state taken to task for it’s failures in relation to state forces, criminals and paramilitiaries, but there is an equal duty to act on behalf of ordinary citizens. Gerry Kelly as Minister for Justice would also have to act within those parameters.

    If, as I suspect, the RM asked for no trials, no names and no pack drill, then that process would seem clearly in breach.

    It looks like we will need a system of trial and release, accompanied with a requirement to investigate. The question then is whether a time limited process is also in breach, and whether crimes which are not favoured by a conviction within that timescale can be tried at a later date when evidence becomes available.

    There, then, has to be a question over what difference an OTR process may make, when a perpetrator can already confess, be brought to trial and be released.

  • Pete Baker

    Btw, Gonzo, regardless of what the various political parties may have agreed to.. I’m not in favour of this legislation.. in any form.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Fair enough, but the problems you cite are wider problems, and nothing to do with the OTR legislation.

    And to “coin a phrase” means to use it for the first time!

    God, the number of people that get that wrong…

    *reaches for anaorak*

  • Pete Baker

    You’d be better off with an anorak, Gonzo ;p