Questions remain over Lillis release

Given the high-profile campaigning on the case, the Northern Ireland Parole Commissioners’ uncommon statement about their apparent u-turn in re-releasing on licence former Provisional IRA member, Brendan Lillis, fails to address concerns of political interference in that process.  Here’s what the commissioners are reported to have said

In a statement they said: “The Parole Commissioners have been tasked with making decisions about prisoners according to established procedures.

“All decisions made by commissioners comply rigorously with these procedures and they have not departed from them in respect of decisions made about Brendan Lillis.”

Similarly, the NI Justice Minister, David Ford, doesn’t appear to have addressed that u-turn either.

“It has been reported that charges against Mr Lillis have been dropped. That is not the case, they are still on the books,” the [NI] justice minister [David Ford] told Radio Ulster.

“The decision that was taken by the Court Service this year was that he was not fit to stand trial which was of course an entirely different issue as to whether he would be fit to be treated in the prison hospital.

“As I understand it the matter is being kept under review and it will be possible if his medical condition improved that he would be returned for trial on the charges which he faces from his alleged activities two years ago.”

Which is good to know.  But which “medical condition”?  His arthritic condition, ankylosing spondylitis?  Or his reported anorexia?

If Lillis is to be released from hospital at some point in the future, the Minister’s statement will be tested by whether or not he is re-arrested. 

But the concerns about the decision to re-release Brendan Lillis on licence certainly haven’t been helped by Lillis’ readiness to speak to the media about that decision – he can be heard, for now, at the start of this Radio Ulster News bulletin on 19th August.

The NI Justice Minister has a responsibility to explain why the Paroles Commissioners have reversed the advice they gave to him at the end of July.  [The Life Sentence Review Commission was renamed the Parole Commission in 2008].  Merely stating that the advice has changed is not sufficient.

After all, as David Ford pointed out on 4th August

Mr Ford said he had taken “an active interest” in the case and had sought additional independent medical advice.

However, he said while it was within his power to free Mr Lillis, he had been advised that there were not sufficient grounds for compassionate release.

“There have only been two cases in the last decade where those exceptional circumstances have been satisfied,” he added.

“One prisoner was terminally ill and died shortly after release. The other had medical needs which could not be met in the prison hospital and was transferred to an outside hospital.

“Neither of those circumstances have been put to me by the people who advice me. And therefore as minister my decision has to be bound by the best professional advice I can be given.”

Update  From the BBC report

[DUP MLA Paul] Givan said the commissioners denied their decision was taken on compassionate grounds but was instead based upon public interest with regards to the level of risk that was posed to society.

“At the beginning of August the justice minister outlined the only two reasons for a compassionate release, which are terminal illness and the inability to meet medical needs in prison,” he said.

“Neither of those two issues relate to Mr Lillis’ case, and the Parole Commission made it clear today that the decision to release Brendan Lillis was made on the perceived risk to the public.”

So, even after the independent medical assessment, Brendan Lillis continued to fail to meet the established criteria for release on compassionate grounds – severe ill health or a lack of appropriate medical treatment.  And the NI Parole Commissioners then decide that the basis for revoking his licence in the first place no longer applies, despite the charges against him still standing?

How very convenient…