Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 December 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Larkin rows could have been avoided

John Larkin's appointment as Attorney General for Northern Ireland in 2010 was welcomed as giving the province an independent, non-political holder of the post for the first time.

And there was no doubt that he was bringing an acute legal brain to the post. So why then has he found himself as something of a controversial figure only half way through his four-year tenure? Is his political antennae not as sensitive as it might be when he involves himself in contentious issues?

During the past two years he has found himself at odds with Westminster over his decision to bring the ancient charge of scandalising the court against former Secretary of State Peter Hain for his criticism of a High Court decision; the UK government also made it clear it did not share his views when he intervened in an Austrian gay adoption court case; now the Justice Committee at Stormont has rejected his offer to assist it in probing the operation of the Marie Stopes abortion clinic in Belfast and the province's senior coroner says he may have overstepped the mark in ordering new inquests into 14 controversial deaths since they involve potential issues of national security, an issue not devolved to the local administration.

To have politicians, fellow lawyers and a senior coroner question his judgment on such a range of issues must surely leave Mr Larkin feeling at least uncomfortable.

Of course political cut and thrust and legal disagreements are part and parcel of everyday life, but yet this is a list of controversies which might have been avoided.

What this shows is that the remit of the Attorney General should have been more closely defined when the post was being brought back into local hands.

The subsequent review of his role as chief legal adviser to the Executive and departments at Stormont - a report is currently with the First and Deputy First Ministers - was too late. But it is not too late for Mr Larkin to reconsider his position on these contentious issues, or at least, contain some of his exuberant legal forays.

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