“The position in the common law world..”

The Northern Ireland Secretary of State has his opinion of what he would, or would not, consider taking forward from the Consultative Group on the Past’s report but other concerns about the recommendations remain. For example, what happens to the rights of anyone accused of criminal activity during the “fixed five-year mandate” of the Legacy Commission? Or are those rights to be suspended in pursuit of “forgiveness and reconciliation”? In today’s Irish Times, Frank Millar reports the views of Peter Smith QC.

The Eames-Bradley report lays stress on the need for its proposals to be “human rights compatible” and recognises that witnesses may need access to legal advice. Against that, Mr Smith said, the apparent guarantee against self-implication sat alongside a power to compel witnesses and the production of papers, in proceedings intended to be non-adversarial, in which it appeared a person accused of serious wrong-doing or criminality would be denied the basic courtroom rights to face his or her accuser, and to challenge them by means of questioning by their lawyer.

“The position in the common law world is that where serious allegations are to be made, an individual must have these rights,” said Mr Smith. “For any commission or tribunal to adjudicate on a person’s alleged criminal behaviour without these essential safeguards would be revolutionary.”