What on earth is James Brokenshire up to? Does he even realise he’s attacking the judiciary?

The recently retired and very steady SDLP veteran MLA Alban Maginness who is also a qualified barrister has been given space to mount a  measured  criticism  against  secretary of state James Brokenshire in the Belfast Telegraph for  his disastrous article in the Sunday Telegraph  complaining  that  an apparent “imbalance” that has led to a “disproportionate” focus on criminal inquiries involving former soldiers.“I am clear the current system is not working and we are in danger of seeing the past rewritten,” wrote Brokenshire.

He is entitled to his opinion about a perceived imbalance in public comment. But is he accusing the Lord Chief Justice and the prosecutorial authorities of “ imbalance” too?  As Alban points out the chief justice Sir Declan Morgan has already answered Brokenshire  in terms.   The DPP Barra Magrory had  rejected a similar charge of bias against soldiers  from a backbencher in December.

 Brokenshire, by playing political footsie with the DUP, is frustrating the achievement of a formal structure for a legacy process, in particular the funding of Troubles-related inquests and ultimate relief for victims’ families.

In an unusually candid manner last week, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, in an address to the Victims and Survivors Forum in Belfast, made it abundantly clear that dealing with Troubles-related inquests by Government was a legal obligation – not simply a matter of Government policy. He went further and said that failure to do so could frustrate the rule of law.

The Lord Chief Justice bluntly stated: “I don’t see why wider political agreement should not be addressed now. All the victims and survivors need this issue to be grasped.”

The suspicion is that he has done nothing in order to appease the DUP, whose support might be required in a future tight vote in parliament.

The Irish News has reacted extensively  to Brokenshire’s comments, Fionnuala O’Connor even  insisting  that  the chances of Stormont’s restoration have been  wrecked.

It was such bare-faced departure from the pretence to be above internal Northern Ireland politics that it surely confirmed the sense that Stormont2 Phase2 is a goner.

Brian Feeney is  predictably and entertainingly splenetic

IT’S interesting that no one has accused our proconsul of deliberately or provocatively choosing almost exactly the forty-fifth anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Derry, indeed the day the annual commemorative march took place, to publish his latest attack on victims of British state violence.

No one has made that accusation because no one would give him the credit of even being aware of the coincidence of the date he chose, when British soldiers killed most innocent victims in Ireland. You have to go back a long way to find a proconsul as directionless as the current specimen. Humphrey Atkins comes to mind but he’s thirty-five years ago and no one remembers him.

There are other similarities apart from ineptitude. Atkins was sent to do Lady Hacksaw’s precise bidding and not step a millimetre beyond. The same with our present incumbent who’s here obviously not for any political sparkle but as someone abjectly loyal to Theresa May for six years at the Home Office.

Even the usually measured and pro unionist Belfast Telegraph joined the  criticism in an editorial headlined “Brokenshire playing a dangerous game.”

  After the election, a new deal on the past, with all its implications, will feature high on the agenda as the parties get down to talks.

There is little doubt that the scene is being set for those discussions and we can only hope that Mr Brokenshire’s own comments prior to the election do not make his job even more onerous in brokering a political agreement when contact begins.

The  explanation that he is courting DUP  support in potentially  tight Brexit votes  is plausible but unlikely.  The Conservatives have those votes in the bag unless he does something startling over the legacy or other matters. He didn’t  need to offer them anything more.

More  likely  is that as Mrs May’s former  understudy at the Home Office he is still more affected by a read- across to Northern Ireland of English  Conservative anger about “our boys” being prosecuted over- officiously over  Iraq  than about our legacy on its merits.  Coupling the two theatres of Iraq and Northern Ireland does no service to the cause of justice for soldiers who served in either.

Despite all his access to  people and information it shows what a bubble he lives in and what his real priorities are. Theresa May herself has form in criticising the  judiciary.

So, probably the most inept single intervention of 18 here- today gone- tomorrow secretaries of state in  44 years.

Later 

In Northern Ireland questions, an oblique reference, but no mistaking to what

Lady Hermon MP

  • In dealing with the security situation in Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State will recognise how important it is that the Northern Ireland Office sends a very clear message that the rule of law prevails in Northern Ireland, so will he kindly take this opportunity to put on the record his full confidence in the independence and integrity of the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan, and indeed the Director of Public Prosecutions?
  • I am very happy to do so in very clear and unequivocal terms: it is essential that we uphold the rule of law without fear or favour, and I absolutely support the work of the police and all those who are responsible for taking that forward and seeing that those who are committing the acts that we are discussing this morning are held to account and brought to justice.

 

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  • Kevin Breslin

    What about the British armed service people killed by double agents and informers?

  • Roger

    Brokenshire is the fella who snuck into the GAA game after the Irish anthem had played. What a great Nationalist triumph the ‘Good Friday’ Agreement was.

  • mickfealty

    Is he actually attacking the judiciary though Brian? (Genuine question.) It’s not the judiciary or the DPP who are choosing which files to prepare and which to leave alone.

  • Korhomme

    An inquest is required as a matter of law. The PSNI act as officers for the coroner, investigating and collating evidence etc. So, where might any (perceived) problem lie?

  • Brian Walker

    Mick, True., his immediate target appears to be decision of the PSNI to review all 238 fatal incidents in which 302 people, many of them terrorists, died, involving perhaps as many as 1000 soldiers. But this obviously a category review and does not imply a flood of prosecutions. The DPP has given the current figures. The judiciary are drawn into his overall comments because the chief justice has again asked for funding for inquests, which the DUP is withholding and which cover notable cases involving the army championed by the Finucane Centre among others . Clearly from his most recent comments Morgan LCJ thought he was in Brokenshire’s sights – or what the effect of his remarks would be on the DUP. What’s the secretary of state think he’s doing anyway criticising the due process he’s supposed to be upholding? .

  • file

    Is he not also wrong on the facts? I am sure I heard someone on the radio enumerating the cases currently being looked at by the Historical Investigations whatever it is called now, and that security force cases were NOT actually over-represented – if you look at a longer period of time than 2 or 3 weeks, that is, and just the cases that come to court in those 2 or 3 weeks.
    [To give him his due, Alex Attwood mentioned the anniversary of Bloody Sunday when commenting on this on Monday on Radio Ulster.]

  • PeterBrown

    No for the reasons you set out – any decision to hold an inquest or have another reopened inquest is I understand currently a matter for the Attorney General not the judiciary so there is no attack on the judiciary whatsoever. The LCJ’s remarks are about the funding of legacy inquests which is a matter for the Assembly in the first instance with a possible passing of the buck to London. There is not even collateral damage for the judiciary in these comments which are directed at investigations not prosecutions (a matter for the DPP who is in the firing line but is not a judge anyway)….

  • PeterBrown

    The DPP referred to prosecutions in terms of (bare) numbers in his interview but i’d be interested to see the pro rata resources allocation, files submitted and prosecution decision outcomes relative to the number of attacks carried out by the various sides and the deaths / injuries caused….

  • file

    Well then also take into account the many republicans and loyalists who have ALREADY been convicted and served time for their crimes. Naturally there will be a greater number of untried security force killings left on the books as they were not brought to trial during the TROUBLES in anything like the same numbers republicans and loyalists were.

  • Granni Trixie

    I would rather ‘follow th evidence where it exists’. The last thing we need is a shared out justice system where a norm is established and for “balance” you are expected to investigate cases from one “one side” alternating with one from another. I think the DPP and LCJ office deserves more respect than the SOS appears to be giving. Even if his strategy is to butter up the DUP/unionists for longer term gain.

  • Granni Trixie

    I think that the very fact that the LCJ has had to appeal again for polticans to hand over monies set aside for legacy inquests is despicable. The DUP are showing they cannot be trusted to make a decision for the greater good and which will move things. Instead they opt to use that power in the service of self interest. London ought to act decisively ….except now we see MPs on the mainland playing up the issues for their own reasons.
    This could go on forever!

  • Brian Walker

    No, it won’t do to defend Brokenshire along such narrow lines. Unusually for a chief justice Morgan has now spoken out three times against the DUP’s stalling on funding of about 40 inquests , many of which involve the army. This means they cannot even be brought forward in anything like an acceptable new time scale. The motivation is political and the NIO should keep well away from it.
    From his latest remarks the chief justice is aware of the impact on the DUP of Brokenshire’s views. If Brokenshire didn’t realise how his repeated comments would be received he has a completely tin ear and is badly advised.

  • JOHN TURLEY

    Very serious error of judgement by Mr Brokenshire,especially at such a sensitive time, Cerainly will be a hinderance that he is impartial and of any
    value in helping the institutions been set up again.

  • Zig70

    If we give kids guns and send them into an area be it Iraq or NI then the political masters should bear some responsibility. Either the politicians who sign or vote in the order should have to serve themselves or if they have offspring at a fighting age then they should have to go. Put Blair in a house in Mosul and ask him if he is still sure he would do it again.

  • Zig70

    Brokenshire’s snub at Newry’s match just amplified his appearance of taking consul solely from unionists. Obviously the champagne reception was worth the money.

  • PeterBrown

    I think you will find that the statistics do not back that up particularly bearing in mind that the defence of self defence was open to members of the security forces when it is not available to terrorists – that is the inevitable consequence of expecting the security forces to play by the rules (Geneva Convention etc) whilst benefitting from choosing not to play by those rules (equally applicable to all terrorists by the way). This is where the concern about rewriting history comes from…

  • PeterBrown

    Not disagreeing with that but the point he is making is that there is only a search for such evidence where the security forces are involved whereas the cases involving terrorists stay on the shelf or in the filing cabinet. That is not an issue for either the DPP who review the files they are given and the LCJ whose colleagues try the ases they are presented with which is why they are not in the firing line from SoS….

  • PeterBrown

    Where did he learn that trick from?

  • PeterBrown

    If the legacy inquest process was balanced then the DUP could presumably have no objection – why do they believe it not to be balanced?

  • Steptoe

    I’d rather live in a society where the Government have to resort to attacking the judiciary as opposed to one where the judiciary is appointed by the head of government (trump). It is a sign that through the seperation of powers, the rule of law is working.
    That said, no society should tolerate the attacks that we have seen recently as to both the independence and credibility of the judiciary as this is a dangerous slope to hover over.

  • PeterBrown

    Erm at the risk of repeating myself no one is attacking the judiciary because they don’t investigate they only deliberate on the cases presented to them….

  • Brian Walker

    This is at the nub of the main argument. It would be useful to have to better tested in court – or at least argued out again in relations to the few past cases

  • Brian Walker

    Peter, the problem is that the newly constituted inquests, many of them involving soldiers’ conduct and to be conducted by the higher judiciary, cannot proceed for lack of funding. It is not about the conduct of any particular inquest.

  • PeterBrown

    It has already been tested – the irony of accusing the security forces of having a limited shoot to kill policy when their opposite numbers on all sides had an unlimited and unfettered shoot to kill policy when both were in theory operating under the same legal restrictions is lost on some of those who think that blame is not proportionate to casualties inflicted

  • PeterBrown

    I’m not disputing that but it is because the vast majority of the new inquests involve SF kiliings and ignore the vast majority of killings which were not carried out by SF that the DUP think granting it exposes them politically (I assume) – if the process were balanced and proportionate there might not be an issue?

  • Devil Eire

    I had thought that was an act of incomprehensible tone-deafness, but it might make some sense viewed through Brian’s lens of ‘DUP appeasement’.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Or put Blair in a house in Mosul and spread the word that he’s there.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Now you know why the tories are known as “the Stupid Party”.

  • PeterBrown

    Or he just copied Sinn Fein at Windsor Park? I thought that they are demanding equality but when SoS follows their lease he is lambasted? Surely not double standards?

  • Brian Walker

    Entirely hyiothetical Peter except perhaps with you

  • PeterBrown

    Not necessarily – the new / repeat inquests should be able to be easily quantified. I am not aware of any involving the murder of any member of SF by terrorists, only a handful of civilian killings by terrorists and the vast majority relate to the least common type of killing civilian or terrorist by SF. If you want to hypothetically or with facts contradict that I am open to correction

  • Kevin Breslin

    And so what?
    Nationalist aspirations of Ireland would make it a free country where he’s perfectly entitled to show up to a GAA match at any time … of course. 😛

  • file

    I think you will find I don’t care. If security forces unlawfully killed people (i.e. in contravention of the rules by which they can kill people legally), then they have to face the rap for it, even if there are no historical cases of terrorist murder to bring before the courts. It is not a matter of ‘one for you, one for me’ or shouldn’t be.

  • PeterBrown

    Agreed but this is not about the number of cases it is about the fact that not all cases are being (re)investigated equally which then has an inevitable knock on effect on the number of files being submitted to PPS and in turn being prosecuted. It’s not about quotas (this is not police recruitment after all) but should all cases not be investigated equally and fairly (chronologically?) rather than security force killings first and if there is money left after that (Saville might indicate that there won’t be) terrorist killings at some point maybe in the future?

  • Devil Eire

    Brokenshire was present in his capacity as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, not as some random MP. It should be uncontroversial for him to show respect to the Irish national anthem.

  • PeterBrown

    What is the distinction between SoS and DFM / DCAL as it then was minister who both did this at Windsor Park?

  • Devil Eire

    Oh I agree that the DFM should also have no problem standing for GSTQ. It’s just that I would have expected the SoS to be above the sectarian gestures of (some) N.I. politicians.

  • Roger

    Ahh sure he was just a punter catching a game ….. no politics involved; all about the sport. Indeed that’s pretty much what he said himself.

  • Roger

    I thought it was a reminder of the great achievements of ‘the Struggle’.

  • Roger

    For me they’re not exactly comparable. One is a political party that backed murdering policemen. The other is a Government that signed the Belfast Agreement that nationalists say was some kind of a breakthrough.

  • Brian Walker

    You don’t seem to be aware of the context. A number of inquests involving army actions are being brought forward because they were postponed for decades. The suspicion that they were being buried – justified or not- is being addressed by the judiciary after coroners’ powers in NI- weaker than in England – were increased and are now exercised by the senior judiciary. It is hardly surprising that soldiers are involved. They did feature rather a lot in the Troubles. Inquests are inquiries into the cause of death, not trials.

  • file

    Steak Knife investigation coming up soon …

  • file

    I think Sinn Féin were actually quite upset at all those murdering policemen running about the place and did not back them at all. (I am deliberately misunderstanding your ambiguous statement to point out its ambiguity.)

  • file

    Who says they are investigating security forces killings first?

  • PeterBrown

    The interview at the weekend with the DPP appeared to confirm they are getting more files about them

  • PeterBrown

    I am aware of the context including the fact that the judiciary are not under fire because they are not the cause of the problem. Some of these inquests are postponed but many are repeats of previous inquests e.g. Pearse Jordan and SoS and MPs are not addressing inquests but the criminal investigations which are usually completely separate hence the references to the DPP who has no role in inquests. If there is any lack of awareness about the context here it is not on my part as Mick has already pointed out….,

  • mac tire

    “If you want to hypothetically or with facts contradict that I am open to correction”

    Yes, you mention SF killings. Could you expand upon that because I have no idea what it means? Thanks.

  • Tochais Siorai

    Indeed. You would expect that if Brokenshire held some kind of neutral office.

    Which of course he doesn’t.

  • anon

    What a b******. Maybe he’s angling to get reshuffled off to somewhere else.

  • PeterBrown

    Security forces

  • file

    Peter, I accept your apology in advance (I am collecting them this week) once you have had a chance to listen to the Radio Ulster news about the actual figures and proportion of cases being investigated which involve security force killings.

  • mac tire

    Thanks, Peter.

  • AntrimGael

    I don’t know if Teresa May, Brokenshire, Villiers etc are genuinely naive about the North or if there is something more sinister going on. They have totally aligned themselves with the DUP and their crazy, provocative statements have completely alienated the Nationalist community.
    I suspect that the DUP at Westminster are now largely driving Tory policy regarding the North and it is going to end in tears. In such a scenario Nationalists will continue to withdraw from politics here and that will only leave the door open to those who will pursue their objectives by other means. The Tories and DUP have ensured that the North cannot work and I believe they will sadly reap the backlash in the near future.

  • PeterBrown

    Erm somewhat presumptuous – also make sure unlike the BBC the figures are compared as I have been doing with the proportion of each case to that type of killing because the figures I saw on BBC last night were not in proportion at all. They are not as out of proportion as some have claimed but there was definitely an imbalance….

  • file

    Very presumptuous, but as I said, I am collecting apologies this week. I appreciate you have put work into this, but listening to the PSNI officer explain the work carried on by his various teams, it was obvious to me that he was miffed at the general lie put about by Brokenshire that there was an unjustifiable emphasis on security force killings, and that he wanted to address that misperception/propaganda/lie. Personally I would like a big Truth Commission with amnesties for all – but then again, no one in my family was killed by The Troubles, so that’s easy for me to say.

  • PeterBrown

    He can be as miffed as he wants (I didn’t see / hear that interview) but the facts of the numbers of each type of case being investigated seems to support the assertion that there is a disproportionate emphasis on killings by soldiers

  • file

    You just won’t take a telling, will you?
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-38844453

  • PeterBrown

    Lets examine those figures…

    1118 cases being investigated 47% by Republicans, 24% by loyalists 32% by security forces and 3 % unknown. Compare that with the breakdown of those responsible for killings on CAIN 58.8% republicans, 29% loyalists, 11.7% security forces. Makes something of a mockery of the BBC’s wildly inaccurate headline that by a factor of c300% there is a concentration on security forces?

    Or to look at it another way 28% of republican killings are being reinvestigated, 29% of loyalists and 93.65% of security force killings. I always fact check what even the BBC says – maybe it is me who is owed an apology?

  • file

    Sorry? Your figures from CAIN. Can you please subtract from those percentages killings for which republicans, loyalists and security force members have already been tried and convicted. Then do your sums again.

  • PeterBrown

    I would if I could find the stats but it would also need to factor in those killings which were justified and legal (self defence for example). Also one conviction does not mean all involved have been held accountable and there is no need for further investigation.

    Suffice to say that in general terms the rate of convictions for loyalist attacks was always highest followed by republicans and the security forces well behind both because half of those they killed were terrorists and most who were tried were acquitted on the grounds the killings were justified. The stats even if they were available would not explain the anomalies I have pointed out but keeping putting out that smokescreen….

  • file

    Do you actually want security forces who can ignore the rule of law and get away with killing people?

  • PeterBrown

    No I want everyone who commits a crime to be pursued – the reality is every terrorist killing is a crime (as is every attempted killing attack on property etc) but not every killing by a member of the security forces is (even potentially of civilians but especially not of terrorists).

    That said all should be invesigated equally rigourously impartially and fairly and the statistics do not bear that out no matter how the BBC interpret them…

  • file

    I’ll see you on Brian’s new thread, no doubt. That’s the BBC for you; well-known for spouting lies to help republican viewpoints. You couldn’t be up to them.

  • PeterBrown

    Feel free to point out the fatal flaw in my reasoning – I have tried to set out the facts which no one has as yet contradicted and the facts appear to be clear the BBC’s opinion less so – the bare numbers are useless without applying them to the totals. Sarcasm does not over some facts I’m afraid….that said their opinion might be more accurate than the DUP’s alleged claim which might be conflating 90% of army killings being investigated with 90% of the investigations being about army killings which the BBC does contradict but their headline is still wrong….there is bias just not as much bias as the DUP seem to think

  • file

    The fatal flaw in your reasoning is that you are setting out to defend the indefensible. You are also adding to the dangerous perception that there is some sort of witch-hunt going on to convict former soldiers. That’s enough flaws: if you are not part of the solution …

  • PeterBrown

    I have not defended anyone in fact i said the opposite – all should be invesigated equally rigourously impartially and fairly but if you cannot win the argument by fair means and facts then resort to alternative facts (lies).

    You refer dangerous perceptions I have produced incontrovertible facts which prove there is a probelm the solution is to investigate all equally rigourously and impartially and fairly. If you will not even acknowledge that there is a problem….

  • file

    I am not in an argument – so if you are, you can consider yourself as having won the one-person argument that you are in. As for incontrovertible facts: have you subtracted all the killings for which people have been convicted from the CAIN percentages yet? No? What’s keeping you?

  • PeterBrown

    I have not because I cannot subtract specific numbers but the points about convictions and investigations which you have ignored remain valid – facts are facts and perceptions are at best perceptions / alternative facts / alt truth (or just plain lies).

    Broadly 2000 of the 36000 murders remain unsolved so the investigations are still unbalanced…

  • file

    So what? Life is not fair. Get used to it. No one ever said it was going to be fair. Now leave me alone and go to Brian’s thread.

  • file

    It does not need tested in court, Brian. State forces have to held to higher standards of behaviour in combat than do illegal paramilitaries. The argument that, “we had to act that way because those illegal paramilitaries were acting that way,” is a non-argument and holds no water.

  • PeterBrown

    Finally the mask slips and the truth comes out – its not fair suck it up and move on (*except for our legacy issues). I thought your whole point was that what was going on was fair but I see now you meant fair to some but not to all…..the general lie put about by Brokenshire that there was an unjustifiable emphasis on security force killings is actually the truth and an uncomfortable truth!

  • file

    Leave me alone. Stop talking to yourself, You are right. You won your solo argument. Thankfully it will nto stop some soldiers being charged with illegal murders. Did you ever see that bit in Shrek where Rumpelstiltskin shouts maniacally, ‘Nobody’s smart but me!”?