16 June 2005 Edition

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New Public Prosecution Service must be genuinely independent

Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly has welcomed the launch of the new Public Prosecution Service as part of the Criminal Justice Review launched in Belfast this week. The ending of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the introduction of a new Public Prosecution Service is the centrepiece of a wide ranging review of the justice system in the North of Ireland.

Kelly welcomed the move but warned that it must be "genuinely independent and free from political interference". Undue leniency towards unionist paramilitaries has long been a feature of the justice system in the Six Counties and reform of the system was a core element of the Good Friday Agreement.

The British Government refused to appoint a commission to oversee the review of the criminal justice system and instead NIO officials carried it out. The review was published in 2000 but implementation has been repeatedly delayed. As part of the reform, newly-appointed judges will no longer be required to swear allegiance to the British monarchy and there will be a reduction of crown emblems within courtrooms.

"The process of delivering change is not complete," said Kelly, "and Sinn Féin will closely monitor developments to ensure that we do have a new beginning to the way prosecutions are handled".

Meanwhile, a man convicted of possession of an arsenal of weaponry for the UDA walked free from court after the presiding judge ruled the completion of various courses during his time on remand amounted to rehabilitation of the offender.

Norman Booth (22) was charged after a raid on his home and that of his grandparents in Bushmills uncovered a stash of unionist paramilitary weapons, including a Bren submachine gun, together with a stand, two magazines, a self-loading rifle with two magazines and an air rifle.

Booth pleaded guilty to possession with intent to endanger life. He was sentenced to two years imprisonment but because he had spent 13 months on remand at a Young Offenders Centre, the convicted man walked free from court.

Presiding Judge McLaughlin said it was clear that the weapons were "part of an arsenal of the UDA in North Antrim" but justifying the light sentence, McLaughlin said he had been "highly impressed" with character references supplied to the court. McLaughlin ruled the offences were "out of character and unlikely to be repeated".


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