The sequence of empty complaints led by Peter Robinson about the “perceptions” of partiality in the granting of bail only risks creating more trouble for the police and the courts to deal with, witness Glengormley last night. The gurning is unlikely to have the slightest effect on the PSNI and the judiciary. This is not because of unreasonable stubbornness on their part but due to the poverty of the criticisms.
For the first time that I can recall the judges have hit back in (for them) forthright fashion. The judiciary suffered as so-called legitimate targets throughout the Troubles. They are unlikely to be intimidated by anything that can be thrown at them now. As Liam Clarke’s report implies, the public have good reason to be grateful to David Ford and the Alliance party for holding onto the Justice portfolio even as they continue to suffer outrageous attacks on their persons and premises.
The unsuccessful bail application by the flags protestor Jamie Bryson was the latest occasion for a judge to take the rare course of speaking out against the criticisms of politicians.
Mr Justice McCloskey refused bail after backing prosecution submissions that the accused might re-offend or incite others to do so.
“The applicant, who has openly evaded and obstructed the police previously, thereby showing no regard at all for the criminal justice system, may by virtue of that conduct repeat his previous behaviour of this kind,” he said.
In his ruling the judge stressed that every bail application was different.
He said anyone attempting to compare cases had a responsibility to ensure they were fully informed of all the facts, circumstances and merits.
A proper comparison can take place only in a courtroom, he said.
Mr Justice McCloskey warned: “Where there is ill-informed debate involving comparisons between individual cases this simply engenders confusion and misunderstanding.
“It can also have very serious consequences. It can serve to jeopardise the delicate balance of the separation of powers between the judiciary and government and in doing so it can under-mine the rule of law
This stiff warning underlines the position of the whole judiciary, as expressed in a letter on behalf of the Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan to the chair of the Assembly Justice Committee Paul Givan.
That produced this lame reply from the FM:
“I hold the same view as the Lord Chief Justice that judges should therefore be free to act independently without improper influence.
“I hold the same position with respect to the operational independence of the police but that core principle does not remove the requirement to ensure concerns are addressed and decisions taken by the police and the judiciary are explained, especially when they lead to public disquiet
Well, the judges and Matt Baggot have given you answers, Peter. What have you and the egregious Sammy got to say now that lives up to your responsibilities as ministers and leaders of opinion? Who do you think you are impressing with your complaints? The loyalists of East Belfast and the rioters from north Belfast? We all know that riot control is an imperfect science but are you really speaking for the unionist majority? Even in a narrow political sense, what have you got to gain by stoking up a confrontation with the justice system for which you are supposed to have overall governmental responsibility?
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