“undermines public confidence in the administration of justice..”

I can’t find it online, not even behind a subscription wall, but the Irish News today has a response from the PPS, in the form of a letter to the editor, to the criticism from Newton Emerson noted by Mick here. The paper also has a short report on the response.

“The Public Prosecution Service recognises that the willingness of witnesses to give evidence underpins the prosecution of offences in Northern Ireland,” deputy director of Prosecution for the PPS Roy Junkin said. “Ill-informed and unfair comment, such as that by Mr Emerson, undermines public confidence in the administration of justice and does not assist in encouraging witnesses to give evidence.”

And there’s a response from Newton to the response.

Mr Emerson said he was surprised that the PPS had held off on responding to the McCartney verdict until now. “I had raised very specific questions about the PPS case and about the compelling, protection and pursuing of witnesses,” Mr Emerson said. “I was also critical of the case reliance on one witness whose testimony conflicted with forensic and photographic evidence. It is absurd of the PPS to then suggest that my criticism of them would discourage witnesses from coming forward. What discourages witnesses is the failure to offer them adequate protection and the poor record of PPS.”

Here’s the full text of the PPS letter to the editor.

Newton Emerson’s article (The Irish News, July 3) about the failure to obtain convictions in respect of the murder of Robert McCartney demonstrates once again his lack of understanding of the criminal justice system.

At the end of the prosecution case, having heard argument, the trial judge in effect ruled that the evidence was such that a jury properly directed upon the law could find the defendants guilty of the offences charged and allowed the case to continue until he reached his verdict. In these circumstances the decision to prosecute was correct and properly taken. A decision to prosecute cannot bring a guarantee of conviction nor should an acquittal lead to the conclusion that the decision to prosecute was incorrect.

Mr Emerson is critical of the manner in which the prosecution dealt with the availability of certain witnesses. It is not fair to individuals for the prosecution to comment in the context of a particular case except in general terms. The steps which it is appropriate for the prosecution to take in relation to the attendance of a witness will depend upon a number of factors including the importance of that witness’s evidence and the reasons for non availability.

The Public Prosecution Service recognises that the willingness of witnesses to give evidence underpins the prosecution of offences in Northern Ireland.

Ill-informed and unfair comment, such as that by Mr Emerson, undermines public confidence in the administration of justice and does not assist in encouraging witnesses to give evidence.

WR Junkin
Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, Belfast.