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Speech from Stewart Dickson on the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005

March 28, 2012 10:22 AM

Speech from Alliance Justice spokesperson Stewart Dickson MLA during the Assembly debate on the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act on Tuesday.

Stewart Dickson MLA said: "Everybody agrees on the need for our Justice system to have transparency, respect for rights, and the importance of maximising public confidence - features that the Justice Minister has been working hard to solidify and enhance since he was elected to that position.

"But I do not think we should be reviewing the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act on the basis of a single case.

"The fact is we need legislation to allow offenders to give evidence against others, and have that cooperation recognised in their sentencing.

"The Minister has worked hard to ensure that he does not cross the lines that clearly demarcate what a Justice Minister should and should not become involved in, and operational decisions of both the police and the PPS are two areas that he should not become involved in.

"It has surprised me to hear other politicians, especially those with a legal background, saying that the Minister and the Department have questions to answer in regard to the Tommy English murder trial. They are either fully aware and playing politics, or need to get better advice in future before making such inaccurate statements.

"What the Minister has expressed a willingness to do, if an adequate case is made to him, is review the legislation itself. I am not aware of any such case having been made.

"Nor, it would appear, does Mr Justice Gillen make a case in his recent judgement, in which he made it clear that it was the evidence, not the legislation, that has been found wanting.

"The legislation under which this prosecution was brought is UK-wide, and is similar in nature to legislation in many other countries. It is not specific to Northern Ireland.

"The statutory provisions have been examined in detail in several cases, and have not been deemed substandard.

"Certainly, if there is any suggestion from the judiciary that they were, they would need to be looked at, taking into account experiences from elsewhere in the UK. But at this stage there does not seem to be any significant concern in the mind of the judiciary in that regard.

"I can understand political and public concern at the failure to secure convictions in relation to the murder of Tommy English. I can also understand concerns at the costs involved in the recent trial - at least the legal aid bill for cases of this nature will be lower in future due to actions taken by the Justice Minister.

"But I do not believe we should do away with important and effective legislation on the basis of one disappointing case; nor do I believe that the case justifies the Minister moving into territory that he has quite rightly kept out of despite misplaced political pressure.

"The PPS decision to bring the prosecutions on the back of evidence given by the Stewart brothers would have been based on a number of tests. One is the likelihood of securing a conviction. Another is whether the prosecution is in the interests of justice.

"From what we have seen in the public domain, some might question why this prosecution was brought forward. On the other hand, two men presented themselves, willing to confess to their part in a murder and willing to provide substantial information about the activities and involvement of others."

Ends

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