Call to deny bail in terror cases as murder case suspect goes missing
Terror suspects in Northern Ireland should no longer be entitled to bail, the Assembly has been told.
Urgent calls have been made by MLAs for a review of bail policies after a suspect in the murder of prison officer David Black fled before trial.
Mr Black was shot dead by dissident republicans as he drove along the M1 on his way to work at Maghaberry prison in November 2012.
Damien Joseph McLaughlin, 40, of Kilmascally Road, near Ardboe, was due to stand trial in February on charges that include aiding and abetting his murder.
However, McLaughlin has been missing since November after he fled his home while on bail. Mr Black's family have said they feel betrayed by the criminal justice system.
A motion by the Ulster Unionist Party for a review of bail policy in terrorism and murder cases has been passed in the Assembly.
However, Sinn Fein MLA Declan Kearney said no-one "should be deprived of their liberty in an arbitrary fashion" but a proposed "blanket ban throws up that connotation".
He added that unacceptable delays for people in custody awaiting trial "has created the perception of a form of legalised internment or detention".
Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie said that terrorist suspects should remain in custody for as long as necessary to allow judicial proceedings to be completed.
He said the Justice Minister must take urgent steps to review bail policy in Northern Ireland, with particular regard to cases involving murder and terrorism.
"Northern Ireland has been scourged by terrorism for far too long. It is beginning to feel like part of the fabric of this country," he added.
"It must be stopped and it must be seen to be stopped. We need our justice system to have a look at their processes."
Referring to the case of McLaughlin, Mr Beattie said: "A suspect in the murder of prison officer Black has had his bail conditions varied, his electronic tag removed and last year he was bailed to go on a spa holiday.
"That individual has not been seen since 17 November. Can you imagine how the Black family feel at this time? Completely let down by the justice system. "
He added that the McLaughlin case was an "embarrassing failure" for the PSNI.
DUP MLA Maurice Morrow said: "The absconding defendant has been a sharp wake-up call to all the agencies involved in the judicial system."
His party colleague, Sammy Douglas, claimed that there have been several instances in recent times in which courts have dealt "leniently" with suspects of violent dissident republicanism in terms of their bail conditions, in spite of police objections.
Justice minister Claire Sugden said that while she sympathised with the ethos of the motion, reform to bail system could not be made without "wider, systemic improvements" of the criminal justice system. She added that action was being taken to speed up the justice process.
The UUP motion was passed by 51 votes to 33.