14 January 1999 Edition

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SF launch recomendations for new judicial system

By Ned Kelly

Sinn Féin is calling for policing, repressive legislation and a comprehensive review of the justice system to be addressed in tandem, as accepted in the Good Friday Agreement.

During the launch of their submission to the Criminal Justice Review Group (CJRG) at Stormont yesterday, they also called for the make-up of the judiciary to be investigated.

Launched by Sinn Féin Assembly members Bairbre de Brún, Spokesperson for Policing and Justice, Martin McGuinness and Dara O'Hagan, the submission focuses on the delivery of justice to be underpinned by real equality before the law; the removal of repressive legislation; an impartial judicial system conforming to the highest human rights standards; and a new policing service.

Bairbre de Brún said that in their submissions to the Patten Commission on 30 November and the CJRG on 11 December, Sinn Féin had ``stressed the need for interaction between the two and the need for both to work with the new Human Rights and Equality Commissions''.

De Brún also called for issues outside the CRJG's remit be taken into account. She said, ``They need to move outside their remit to understand the overall context of justice and policing.''

Specifically, the submission called for the removal of emergency legislation and Diplock courts; a public inquiry into all unsolved state murders; withdrawal of plastic bullets; an official independent inquiry into Pat Finucane's murder; an examination of British Army/Loyalist collusion; the immediate closure of RUC interrogation centres; an ending of curfews imposed on nationalists during Orange marches; the immediate withdrawal of the British Army back to barracks; and the creation of a new policing service.

A review and analysis of the make-up of the criminal justice system workforce was also described as crucial. De Brún said an employee profile to examine the position of Catholics, nationalists and women in the justice system would be a useful ``starting point''.

Such a starting point identifies that fundamental to a new judicial system are questions about who runs the current system and who works within it: the civil servants, the RUC and judiciary; all of which are dominated by unionists.

Calling for the immediate removal of the current Lord Chief Justice and senior judges, de Brún said that ``the responses of the judiciary in the past to the human rights abuses of the state and state collusion with Loyalists is within the remit of the CJRG.''

She added that addressing the dominance of unionists within the the civil service and justice system and the ``use of the system against nationalists and emergency powers as a political response'' was vital.

The submission called for the judiciary to become representative of the population within three years.

While Mo Mowlam might feel that the system of justice in the Six-Counties has ``served us well'', de Brún emphasised that it clearly had not served us well and that cosmetic ``productivity or management changes'' that failed to look at the ``alienation of nationalists, and especially young people from the system'' would be insufficient.

The Sinn Féin submission also called for more resources for community responses to crime, a stronger local input and a look at the role of the voluntry sector.

The need to modernise and open up the entire court process and to neutralise or promote the equality of symbols and languge was also stressed.

Martin McGuinness stressed that Sinn Féin were at the heart of the search for new methods for dealing with the community response to crime and had ``over the last 15 years consistently called for punishment beatings to end''. He added that the reality of the situation for many nationalists was alienation from the RUC.

De Brún added: ``No other political party has literally gone into the community, working with groups such as probation or NIACRO in order to create a new situation where the community response in not violent.''

Speaking of the challenge ahead, de Brún said, ``this is a small step but if they [the CJRG] point the way forward towards a more fundamental review of justice and when all the small steps come together it will be the begining to the far reaching changes needed that mean the community will have trust.''

The submission also asked the CJRG to look at an inquisitorial approach to prosecution with the potential for incorporation into a new system of coroners' inquests, with the removal of the RUC from any prosecution role. The potential unification of functions within a single executive department, based on the Department of Justice in the 26 Counties as a template would also allow for harmonisation of all-Ireland structures.

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