Ban on wiretap evidence in NI courts draws criticism…

GORDON Brown’s statement paving the way for phone-tap evidence to be used in court (subject to conditions) in England and Wales has led to criticism in Northern Ireland. Both the DUP’s Sammy Wilson and Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde have questioned why such evidence can’t be used here. Brown’s only response so far is: “This is a recommendation of the committee, in the first instance, in relation to public interest immunity certificates. That is why, for example, the use of such material could not be applied immediately to Scotland, but I will consider the points that the hon. Gentleman has raised.”

The critical paragraph from the Chilcot report [pdf] states that:

public enquiries have wide-ranging powers to order disclosure, that cannot be fettered by public interest immunity, which would need to be considered. The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland may also, in accordance with section 66 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, require that the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland provide him with any information in his possession, regardless of its nature or potential sensitivity. While the Police Ombudsman is confident that he has appropriate measures in place to protect sensitive information, this Review will need to take due regard of these powers. Because of these particular risks, we recommend no change to the current legal regime for interception in Northern Ireland.

Those with greater knowledge of these things than me can judge whether these reasons are credible; on the face of it, I thought public inquiries could be severely limited and hidden by the new Inquiries Act, while the second reason doesn’t exactly sound like a ringing endorsement of Government confidence the police watchdog.

It certainly didn’t impress Orde, who’s been calling for this for some time and who was left out of the loop before the announcement.

Orde said: “I can’t think of a logical reason that would exclude Northern Ireland from that debate. I would be concerned if I was excluded.”

Perhaps, as well as protecting agents or informers, Brown doesn’t want to upset the devolution of policing and justice. Phone-tapping has, of course, been used here for years, but it looks like it will remain within the hidden realms of intelligence, and not be revealed as evidence in courts.

  • Terrorism is obviously a concern, and I can see why phone convo acquired via covert surveillance might indeed be crucial in nailing a suspect.

    Having said that, my larger concern is the alarming increase in surveillance by authorities in general. Walking in parts of London virtually guarantees that your image is appearing simultaneously on anonymous monitors. Some camera locations are bundled with audio so a concealed guardian can bark at you if you stroll into an alleyway for a quick whiz.

    I agree with the lead post that this will likely remain in the realms of “intelligence” – which is really all they need. We know how resourceful they can be at making ‘other arrangements’ based on netted info. Someone, somewhere is usually willing to squeal – especially with a few incentives.

    But of course that’s just being flip, we all know how up-front and transparent Lady Justice is.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Perhaps a ruse by the Englezes to ‘encourage’ Unionists to go for devolution of Justice –
    really saying “if you want to have funny laws like us then it is up to you”.

  • wild turkey

    maybe a bit off topic but…

    Re the tapping of MP KHAN, this past week Newsnight or Channel 4 gave a list of all the organisations that can initiate bugging/tapping off their own bat. Included in the list was The Welsh Assembly.

    Question. Does anyone know if the NI assembly has similar current or POTENTIAL powers?


  • DC

    It sounds like the British Governmnet are worried that the police ombudsman may well delve too deeply into covert operations if such information were to come to light of its existence in an investigative sense under the PSNI or others in part of the prosecution.

    Re phone tap evidence in N Ireland, how long is a piece of string and where will it end?

  • ciaran

    Is this likely to include information received from solicitor/client conversations which it seems are recorded.