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24 January 2002 Edition

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Sinn Féin concerns over British Criminal Justice Bill

Commenting on the first reading of the Criminal Justive Bill in Westminster on Monday, Sinn Féin spokesperson on the issue Mitchel McLaughlin expressed serious concern that the areas of Diplock Courts and repressive legislation were omitted from the ambit of the Criminal Justice Review.

"Although the Review Group acknowledged the interdependence of criminal justice, policing and emergency legislation," he said, "this was ignored by the British government. Democratic structures for the administration of Justice, Diplock political courts and repressive legislation cannot function simultaneously. They are mutually incompatible.

"Sinn Féin's position is that in order to ensure the maximum confidence of the community as a whole, the old strategies of exclusion, injustice and repression must end. We believe that a 'root and branch' transformation of the Criminal Justice system is essential where the highest standards of justice and respect for human rights are guaranteed.

"As with policing, the system was buttressed by a set of symbols and titles (union flag, Royal Courts of Justice, Lord Chief Justice, Queens Counsel etc) that alienated nationalists and republicans. It meant that if a Catholic was to be appointed to any of these positions they had to embrace the British unionist traditions and ethos, thus excluding nationalists and republicans. In other words, it had to be a Catholic unionist. This is unacceptable. There must be equality in all areas of the Justice system. As well as having equal access to and treatment by the Justice system - symbols, emblems and titles must give equal expression to both identities or be neutral.

"There is no provision for the appointment of an Oversight Commissioner to supervise the implementation of legislation once it has been introduced. This is as essential for the fair administration of Justice as it is for policing.

"The recommendations around the office of the DPP is another area of grave concern. While even within the flawed remit of the review, this was one area with scope for wide ranging reform, the only recommendation of the review group is for a simple name change. The history of failure of the existing office of the DPP to prosecute in controversial cases, particularly involving members and agents of the British Forces, requires that extensive root and branch overhaul of the makeup of personnel and operation of this office is of paramount importance if confidence is to be built in the competence of a new DPP.

"The fact that recruitment has already begun for the new service even before the publication of the implementation plan will not serve to build confidence in the nationalist and republican community nor will it encourage them to apply for positions in the service.

"It is also deeply worrying that the judiciary is to remain exactly as is and with human rights training to be optional rather than compulsory. The Lord Chief Justice chairing the Commission and having the power to appoint five of the other eleven positions is unacceptable. This would serve to have the Lord Chief Justice and his/her appointees dominate and control the Commission. The legislative requirement that the remaining 'lay' members of the commission should be 'reflective' of the population rather than 'representative' is another example of the failure to address the issue of equality."
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