Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Bertha McDougall: Controversy over her appointment

Civil Service head awaits decision

THE head of the Civil Service has an anxious wait ahead before he learns if he is to be spared a courtroom appearance over the controversial appointment of Victims Commissioner Bertha McDougall.

THE head of the Civil Service has an anxious wait ahead before he learns if he is to be spared a courtroom appearance over the controversial appointment of Victims Commissioner Bertha McDougall.

Nigel Hamilton had been ordered by Mr Justice Girvan to attend in the High Court later this month to be cross-examined about events leading up to Mrs McDougall's appointment by Secretary of State Peter Hain.

But Mr Hain appealed the order and yesterday three Appeal Court judges decided to remit the decision to Judge Girvan for further consideration next week.

"We do that not without misgivings," said the Lord Chief Justice Sir Brian Kerr, sitting with Lord Justices Campbell and Sheil.

It was last June that Mr Hamilton was ordered to appear for cross-examination by lawyers for Brenda Downes who is seeking a judicial review of Mrs McDougall's appointment.

She is claiming that Mr Hain made the appointment for an improper motive - a political purpose - and was a "sop" to the DUP in response to demands for "confidence building measures".

Mrs Downes's husband was killed by an RUC plastic bullet, fired at a rally in Belfast, and Mrs McDougall's husband, a police reservist, was murdered by the Irish National Liberation Army.

Mr Justice Girvan held that Mr Hamilton's affidavit was so shrouded in careful terminology that he was left unclear as to what exactly lay behind his statement that Mr Hain was "mindful" that Mrs McDougall's name had been put forward by the DUP.

Delivering judgment after yesterday's appeal the Lord Chief Justice referred to a new affidavit sworn by the NIO's Jonathan Phillips and said it now transpired that the appointment was the culmination of exchanges between government officials, the Secretary of State and the DUP which had been asked to nominate a person to fill the post.

He went on: "We are concerned that this affidavit was not filed until August.

"The respondent (Mr Hain) at the time of Mr Hamilton's affidavit was well aware this was an issue that required to be canvassed in the course of the substantive hearing and the fact that the DUP had been approached to nominate an individual seems to us to be relevant to the issue of improper motive."

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