OTR scheme review judge named, and NI Affairs Committee launches inquiry

Sinn Fein’s Alex Maskey might well think “it would’ve been better to have left the issue alone”  [I couldn’t possibly comment… -Ed].  But that’s not happening.  Today the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, informed the House of Commons that “the Rt Hon Lady Justice Hallett DBE has been appointed to conduct an independent review of the administrative scheme to deal with so-called ‘on-the-runs’”.

The terms of reference of the review are:

  • to produce a full public account of the operation and extent of the administrative scheme for OTRs
  • to determine whether any letters sent through the scheme contained errors
  • to make recommendations as necessary on this or related matters that are drawn to the attention of the inquiry

Also today the House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee launched its own inquiry into the administrative scheme for “on-the-runs”.

The Committee invites written evidence on its new inquiry Administrative Scheme for “on-the-runs”. Submissions are invited, the Committee will be looking in particular:

  • Background to, and origins of, the scheme, and what was the purpose and intended effect of the scheme
  • The scheme itself, including the determination of who constitutes “on-the-runs”
  • The legal status and legal implications of the scheme
  • Involvement by HM Government, other Governments, the Attorney General’s Office, the Armed Forces, Police services, The Public Prosecution Service for NI, and any others, and any advice sought by them
  • Accountability to Parliament about the scheme, and the political implications of the scheme
  • People on the scheme
  • The letters themselves, including their contents and their legal standing; can holders of such letters still be prosecuted if the relevant authorities deem such action to be appropriate
  • The Royal Prerogative of Mercy
  • Errors made under the scheme
  • The impact of the scheme on victims and relatives
  • Devolution of policing and justice
  • The current situation regarding the scheme and “on-the-runs”
  • What effect does the scheme have on existing Human Rights and/or Equalities legislation
  • The future regarding “on-the-runs” and others
  • Any other related matters

There is one potentially interesting piece of information about the administrative scheme, post-Operation Rapid, that has also emerged recently.  A speech by the NI Secretary of State on 7 March to the Association of European Journalists, announcing that “the scheme is over”, included these lines

We need to see an end the era of secret side deals and evasive parliamentary answers that too often characterised the handling of the political process here and undermined confidence in it.

I regret the fact that this government did not discuss the OTR scheme with ministers in the executive, particularly when we concluded in August 2012 that anyone wanting to raise new cases should direct them to the devolved authorities. [added emphasis]

And I have made that clear both to the First Minister and the Justice Minister.

I believe that the way in which the previous government withheld the scheme from Northern Ireland’s politicians, from parliament and from the public in the aftermath of the failure of the legislation in 2005 was wrong and I welcome the apology Labour gave for that earlier this week.

As Mick mentioned previously, prior to the Downey case,”the last written question lodged on this matter by Sinn Fein in the Oireachtas was in July 2012″.  There was a specific question on the British Government’s implementation of Article 20 of the Weston Park Agreement on 16 May that year.  Since then, not so much…

As I noted from Mark Devenport recently, “Just to confuse matters, some elements of the tale of the On The Runs appear to have been hidden in plain sight.”