Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 26 October 2014

Torrens Knight at his first court appearance after the Greysteel Bar massacre. He was imprisoned under the Diplock system

Hunger striker Bobby Sands

Diplock courts have heard many major terrorist trials

Diplock courts have heard many major terrorist trials

DIPLOCK courts were introduced in Northern Ireland in 1972 as an attempt to overcome widespread jury intimidation by paramilitaries and as an alternative to internment.

The right to trial by jury was suspended and the court consisted of a single judge. From the onset the system was hugely controversial and the IRA killed a number of judges and magistrates who sat in Diplock courts.

Many of the major terrorist trials over the past 30 years have been carried out in Diplock courts.

IRA hunger strikers, including Bobby Sands and Francis Hughes, were convicted through the Diplock system, increasing republican animosity to a system which treated them as common criminals rather than political prisoners.

Between 1981 and 1985, the Diplock courts were used to process the 'supergrass' trials during which former paramilitaries gave evidence against colleagues in return for immunity. In 1982 alone, more than 600 suspected paramilitaries were jailed.

Diplock was also used in the shoot-to-kill trials during which RUC officers were cleared of shooting unarmed republican suspects.

Many of the most infamous killers in Northern Ireland's history were imprisoned under Diplock including Shankill Butchers Robert Bates, Sam McAllister and William Moore.

Greysteel 'Trick or Treat' killers Stephen Irwin and Torrens Knight were also jailed.

Until recently the Diplock courts only tried republican or loyalist paramilitaries. However, the first case in which a non-Irish person was tried and convicted occurred last year when Abbas Boutrab, a suspected al-Qaeda sympathiser, was found guilty of having information that could assist bombing a plane.

Non-jury trials will still be used for major terrorist trials, notably the case of Sean Hoey who has been charged with multiple murders following the 1998 Omagh bomb massacre.

It is believed that since 1972 over a third of all serious criminal cases in Ulster have been heard by Diplock courts.

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