It’s some way from a final decision but interesting to note that DUP MLA Ian Paisley Jnr may ultimately face a charge of civil contempt for not revealing the identity of a senior prison officer who, in relation to the Wright Inquiry, “told of an alleged policy within the Northern Ireland Prison Service to destroy a large number of files as an emergency due to data protection legislation”.
During a preliminary debate over how to characterise the proceedings John Larkin QC, for the Inquiry, argued that they were civil. Backing this view, Mr Justice Gillen said the focus was on obtaining the information rather than on the punishment.
Although the judge emphasised that he had an entirely open mind about how the case will be ultimately determined, he said if any enforcement steps were taken and failed to secure compliance the “dual nature of civil contempt will come into play”. “At that stage the High Court will have a very substantial interest in seeing that any order it makes must be upheld – if necessary by committal to prison for contempt. “But that stage is far from being reached at this point and in my view is not the primary purpose of Section 36 [of the Inquiries Act].”