The right course would be for the Secretary of State to file an affidavit clarifying the position

If the Secretary of State for Wales etc, Peter Hain, thought he could concentrate on his campaign to improve his public profile while awaiting the Attorney-General’s inquiry into whether he had exercised the high level of candour expected of government departments faced with judicial review [or whether he had deliberately attempted to pervert the course of justice – Ed] he may have to think again. The Irish Times reports on the ongoing proceedings in the High Court where the Secretary of State’s QC admitted he had received information, relating to the extension of Mrs McDougall’s appointment, “which may or may not mean that what I said was not correct”.. and Mr Justice Girvan has directed Peter Hain to provide an affidavit on Monday.[subs req] Updated belowFrom the Irish Times[subs req]

Paul Maguire QC, for the Secretary of State, said initially that he had been told Mrs McDougall’s appointment had not been extended, but after the court adjourned he said he had received information “which may or may not mean that what I said was not correct.”

The right course, he said, would be for the Secretary of State to file an affidavit clarifying the position.

Mr Justice Girvan remarked: “That is a pretty central point and I find it very strange that this information has not been furnished to the court.”

He directed the Secretary of State to file his affidavit on Monday and adjourned the hearing until a day to be fixed during the last week of the legal term beginning December 18th.

Update The Irish News reveals[subs req] why the clarification was requested

Mrs McDougall’s interim one-year appointment was due to end next Tuesday but the court was told she had been informed on October 31 that her contract was being extended up to teh end of January 2007, so she could complete her annual report.

Her lawyer, John Larkin QC said in reply to the judge that Mrs McDougall’s understanding of the extension came from a meeting she had with Nigel Hamilton, head of the civil service.

while the High Court’s original ruling, prior to the calling of an inquiry, stated

Conclusions

[59] The appointment of Mrs McDougall

(a) breached section 76 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998;

(b) being in breach of the accepted merit norms applicable to public appointments and in breach of the Ministerial Code of Practice in the circumstances the appointment, was in breach of the power of appointment under the Royal Prerogative;[added emphasis]

(c) was motivated by an improper purpose, being motivated by a political purpose ( so called confidence building) which could not be legitimately pursued at the expense of complying with the proper norms of public appointments where merit is the overriding consideration; and

(d) failed to take account of the fact that there was no evidential basis for concluding that the appointee would command cross-community support.

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