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Consultations planned on Northern Ireland non-jury trials

Published 22/07/2015

Theresa Villiers has agreed to consult on non jury trials in Northern Ireland
Theresa Villiers has agreed to consult on non jury trials in Northern Ireland

Non-jury trials in Northern Ireland will be the subject of public consultations before the temporary rules are extended again in 2017, the Government has pledged.

Peers agreed to renew the powers via the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007 (Extension of duration of nonjury trial provisions) Order 2015.

But Minister Lord Dunlop acknowledged non-jury trials were not ideal in British courts and said even though the main legislation did not limit how many times the powers could be renewed, a new broad consultation would be held.

The minister said the powers were still necessary because there had already been eight attacks in the province this year - most recently with an explosion in Lurgan on Saturday.

He told the House of Lords: "Given the understandable concerns around the repeated extensions of these provisions and mindful of previous calls for wider consultation, the Secretary of State (Theresa Villiers) has asked officials to prepare a public consultation ahead of the next expiry in 2017.

"This will inform a wider review of non-jury trials in Northern Ireland and how certificates are issued and may be challenged. This should not be perceived as the Government questioning the necessity or validity of the provisions for Northern Ireland's current situation - rather it is a positive commitment to openness and a desire to consider the views of the wider public."

A small targeted consultation of relevant groups and individuals was carried out before this extension and the previous one in 2013.

Outlining the justification for the new renewal, Lord Dunlop said: "T his is the fourth such extension of these provisions. Noble lords will understandably want to be assured further extension is justified.

" We continue to face a severe threat from dissident republican terrorism in Northern Ireland, there remains a minority of committed terrorists who seek to undermine our progress using lethal violence and intimidation.

"We all want to see progress towards normalisation in Northern Ireland. We must recognise however that Northern Ireland is still in a unique situation. The non-jury trial provisions in the 2007 Act continue to provide an appropriate response to a very small number of cases.

"Without such provisions trials in Northern Ireland would not be safe from disruption and justice would be put at risk in the most serious of cases.

"The Government would move to end the exceptional system of non-jury trials in Northern Ireland as soon as it was no longer necessary but this should only happen when the security situation allows - and regrettably we are not there yet."

Lord Dunlop said the system was different to the "Diplock" model which operated before 2007, when he said the presumption was all cases would be heard by a judge alone, whereas now the default position is to use a jury except in a small number of exceptional cases.

Last year, only 1.7% of Crown Court cases in Northern Ireland were heard without a jury.

Peers also passed the Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections) (Amendment) Order 2015.

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