Belfast Telegraph

Legal chief 'could face Assembly'

Attorney General John Larkin could field questions in the Assembly about public prosecutions under proposals being considered by the Executive.

Northern Ireland's chief legal officer does not appear on the floor of the chamber to be quizzed or make statements.

There have been political calls for greater accountability from the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) amid high profile court cases where the suspects have been cleared or a decision made not to prosecute.

A consultation by the Department of Justice and the Office for the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) said Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Barra McGrory could become responsible to the Attorney General.

"The accountability created in this way would be wide-ranging. It would reflect models elsewhere where someone with independence and the responsibility for taking operational decisions can nevertheless be responsible for those decisions to the other agency," it said.

"Ultimately while the attorney could not tell the director what to do, nor to refrain from doing something, as a backstop any significant concern that could not be resolved through discussion could be reported to the Assembly by the attorney.

"This model would of course mean that the person answering in the Assembly would not be the actual decision-maker, but this is not in itself unusual and indeed in a sensitive area it could be argued that there is advantage in having some distance between political opprobrium and a quasi-judicial decision-maker."

It would also cover the wider justice system and progress on addressing Criminal Justice Inspectorate recommendations.

Teenager Thomas Devlin was stabbed to death in north Belfast and two men were later sentenced despite an initial PPS decision not to bring murder charges against those accused of killing Mr Devlin. The schoolboy's parents have called for a review of the PPS.

Ulster Unionist MLA Basil McCrea has asked for a Police Ombudsman-style commissioner to be appointed, while four options for prosecutions are under consideration by Justice Minister David Ford and the OFMDFM.

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