Shawcross in January, but not in December?

The UTV report seems a bit muddled to me*[Update clearly UTV thought so too – their new report is here], but in answer to a question put by the DUP MP Nigel Dodds, on the decision not to prosecute in the Stormont spy-ring case, the Solicitor-General, Mike O’Brien, stated that “The Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland were certainly consulted.”.. but that the consultation, known as the Shawcross procedure, had taken place in January 2005 and not in December when the decision was actually taken not to proceed, which the Solicitor General now states followed after information was received from the Chief Constable, Hugh Orde, in November 2005 – transcript available here. All of which conveniently explains the previous conflicting narratives from the British Government, and spares Tony Blair’s blushes.. but doesn’t explain why the prosecution was in the public interest in January 2005, but was not in the public interest in December.Full text from the Commons question –

Discounted Prosecutions
21. Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): In how many cases a prosecution has been discontinued in the public interest in the last 12 months. [41082]

The Solicitor-General: Provisional figures show that during 2005, 25,400 cases were discontinued in the public interest in England and Wales—just over 2 per cent. of the total number of completed cases. The only figures for Northern Ireland relate to Fermanagh and Tyrone and Greater Belfast. Between 1 April and 30 September 2005, 164 cases were discontinued in the public interest—again, just over 2 per cent. of the total.

Mr. Dodds: The Solicitor-General will know that the most high-profile case which has caused the most controversy in the House recently is the dropping of charges in the public interest against the IRA members involved in the Stormont spy ring. Is it not time for more information to be put in the public domain in the public interest, so that people have a clearer understanding of the bizarre events surrounding the dropping of those charges? In particular, can the Solicitor-General go further than the Attorney-General did in his letter to the leader of my party on 22 December, and tell us which Ministers—including the Prime Minister—were consulted before the decision was made to drop the charges?

The Solicitor-General: The Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland were certainly consulted.

The Shawcross procedure was initiated back in 1951 by Sir Hartley Shawcross, who set out the rules very clearly. In the case to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, it took place in January. The decision relating to the decision to discontinue the prosecution was made in December as a result of information received from the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. In that instance there was no Shawcross procedure and no consultation of other Ministers, apart from a discussion between the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland and the Attorney-General following information received from the Chief Constable in November. The Shawcross consultation took place earlier in the year on a different matter. A separate issue arose in November and December, as a result of which the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland took the view, after consultation with the Attorney-General, that the prosecution should be discontinued.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Like many other cases, the Northern Ireland case gives the public great cause for concern, because they do not understand why a prosecution that they expected to take place did not go ahead. Will the Solicitor-General consider the adoption of a much better procedure, allowing the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Crown Prosecution Service to be regularly accountable to the public—to explain why they make such decisions, to answer questions, and to increase the credibility of their decisions as a result?

The Solicitor-General: The Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland gave careful consideration to the information that he received from the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland in November 2005. I think that the DPP acted quite properly. He did consult the Attorney-General, but no other Minister was involved in the December decision to discontinue the prosecution.

Having regard to his duties as prosecutor, the DPP weighed the relevant factors—including the Human Rights Act 1998—in deciding that it was not in the public interest to continue the prosecution. It is not open to the DPP or to me to make public the reasoning behind that decision. To do so would be liable to give rise to the very damage that the decision to stop the prosecution was intended to avoid. The hon. Gentleman seems to want the information to be in the public arena, but the purpose of the decision was to stop certain information from entering the public arena.

*Update – I’ve probably been a bit harsh on the report in question, it’s not really that muddled, although they do refer to Mike O’Brien as “secretary general” at one point.

  • heck

    ah, so it’s all clear now.

  • harpo

    So it all ground to a halt because the Chief Constable told the guys something. What could that have been? It’s obviously some secret that trumps the public’s right to know what the details are.

    That could only be the protection of an informer that the PSNI either run or know about.

    It can’t be the recently raised cost issue – the Chief Constable isn’t in any position to object to costs. ‘Hey guys – this prosecution is costing too much’ isn’t an objection that the PSNI could raise.

    This doesn’t clarify anything other than the fact that it is clear that priority number 1 is to keep the public in the dark.

    The intention is stated to be to avoid doing the very damage that going ahead with the prosecution would have caused. That means it must be that something that would have come out as evidence during the case is to be suppressed. It can only be the fact that an informer is involved. An informer other than Donaldson.

  • damian q

    utv reports seem to me to be frequently muddled

  • Ben A

    Well, how do you catch a spy? I gently suggest that one might utilise a spy. If so, surely a prosecution in a case of this type might give rise to revelationsa about just how many spooks were actually working in the White Lubiyanka at the time of the contretemps?


    Why’s he only talking about Provisional figures? Surely it’s wrong to focus only on the IRA when loyalists are blah blah blah…

    Ho ho.

  • Belfastwhite

    So it was a case of the Shawcross Redemption!

    Great democracy we live in eh when the government treat the rest of the state like little children and decide what we can and cannot hear or see.