“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.

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  • joeCanuck

    Utterly ridiculous to try to stifle criticism of a public body.
    If the critique is plainly wrong, then counter it with your version of the facts rather than criticizing the “messenger”.

  • Quaysider

    This really is pathetic from the PPS – to say it is doing its job if it can get a case started, regardless of how much of a failure the case then turns out to be, is setting itself the lowest possible standard.

    Of course not all cases will result in a conviction, but it’s the PPS’s job to secure convictions on behalf of the public.

  • Dave

    So the media shouldn’t publish any criticism of the justice system if that criticism is likely to undermine the public’s confidence in it? That argument could be applied to any system that requires faith as a form of censorship. Still, large sections of the media have willingly acted as cheerleaders for the political system via advocacy of ‘the process’ and self-censorship of dissenting viewpoints, so it is perhaps inevitable that other systems of the state that require public confidence should demand similar cheerleading and censorship of criticism. Behave like a whore for long enough and you will be treated like one by more than just your paying punter.

    It’s black farce in this case where the real issue is intimidation of witnesses and their very real fear of those who threaten them to remain silent, and the failure – as Emerson pointed out – of the CPS to offer appropriate protection to those witnesses. In addition, public confidence is further undermined by the fact that the close associates of those who are making the threats against the public are in positions of political power over the public in a state that has shown that interference in the operation of its justice system by its political elite for nefarious purposes is a workable option.

  • L Dallas

    Sorry, but this letter comes under freedom of speech, ie the right of reply to criticism.

    Whether we agree with Emerson’s points or the PPS’s is the question at hand, not whether a public body has the right to defend itself from what it considers to be ill-advised and unfair criticism.

  • L Dallas

    I should have pointed out, as the PPS did, that the defence moved to have the case thrown out, but the judge ruled that he considered there to be enough evidence to allow for the possibility of a guilty verdict.
    Therefore, the judge was broadly in agreement with the PPS regarding whether there were enough grounds to bring the case in the first place.

  • Quaysider

    …the case which then failed abysmally.
    Nobody here has said that the PPS has no right to reply; it’s the contents of the reply that don’t stack up, L Dallas. Are you seriously suggesting that the PPS performance at the McCartney trial was A-OK just because the defence didn’t get it immediately thrown out?

  • joeCanuck

    L Dallas,

    Of course the PPS have a right to reply, as Quaysider has noted and, indeed, as I did myself.
    What I objected to was their apparent taking “offence” because Emerson had the temerity to criticize them.

  • L Dallas

    Exercising a right to reply is precisely because you have taken offence at what someone has said or implied. Why else?

  • joeCanuck

    There is a difference between disagreeing and taking offence. Also, it’s never smart to attack the person rather than the argument.

  • cynic

    Does Section 116 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 apply here viz

    116 Cases where a witness is unavailable

    (1) In criminal proceedings a statement not made in oral evidence in the
    proceedings is admissible as evidence of any matter stated if—

    (a) oral evidence given in the proceedings by the person who made the
    statement would be admissible as evidence of that matter,

    (b) the person who made the statement (the relevant person) is identified
    to the court’s satisfaction, and

    (c) any of the five conditions mentioned in subsection (2) is satisfied.

    (2) The conditions are—


    (e) that through fear the relevant person does not give (or does not
    continue to give) oral evidence in the proceedings, either at all or in
    connection with the subject matter of the statement, and the court gives
    leave for the statement to be given in evidence.

    (4) Leave may be given under subsection (2)(e) only if the court considers that the
    statement ought to be admitted in the interests of justice, having regard—

    (a) to the statement’s contents,

    (b) to any risk that its admission or exclusion will result in unfairness to
    any party to the proceedings (and in particular to how difficult it will
    be to challenge the statement if the relevant person does not give oral

    Were there other statements that were not used? Was the PPS just playing safe?