Liam Clarke has been made aware that post Franco Spain rather than South Africa is the current model for dealing with the past. He seems to be the only MSM journalist to pick up Owen Paterson’s interesting Steinberg lecture which I drew attention to last week. Spain passed an Act of Oblivion for all the atrocities committed during a civil war and aftermath that cost a million lives. Are we up for something similar? See Michael Portillo’s essay on his split background.
Liam offers a penetrating analysis of the issues involved in what appears to be the SoS’s favoured approach to dealing with the past. This involves opening up the archives to historians on an unprecedented scale. He rehearses some of the problems and solutions of such a project. I instance one of each.
Any lawyer would advise people who were active in the Troubles, whether they are retired members of the security forces or former paramilitants, to say nothing unless they were assured that their words could not be used in criminal proceedings. Some might also require anonymity.
One way around this would be for a panel including trained police investigators and lawyers, not just historians, to sift through the material and form a view on the feasibility of prosecution. This professional assessment would help victims decide whether evidence in their cases should be made public or withheld in the hope of future prosecutions. They could also consider whether they wanted likely perpetrators to be given immunity from self incrimination in return
I add a few more of my own.
- How wide a range of disclosure is contemplated?
- How can disclosure of case information be made compatible with the general Human Rights Act requirements to protect identity?
- How can effective disclosure avoid prejudicing possible trials or inquest?
- How is it proposed to overcome the effective veto of the judiciary, independent prodecutors and coroners?
- Who vets the documents and the readers and sets conditions of access and publication? A British, British and Irish or a wider international commission?
- Should document release be iterative i.e. year by year as with the National Archives or released in a multi-volume Big Bang?
- Would special legislation be necessary?
- Would such a scheme need the approval of all parties?
- Would it win the participation of former paramilitaries in follow-up?
- Is such a scheme by itself a sufficient response to allow a line to be drawn under the Troubles and lift the threat of future prosecutions, apart from the continuing due process of inquests?
- Should it begin with an audit of where we are now?
- How soon could the project begin?
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London