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Belfast husband and wife to go before the UK's highest court in bid to discover why they were cleared

Senior judges in Belfast today certified a legal question for James Martin and Veronica Ryan's lawyers to take to the Supreme Court in London.

By Alan Erwin

A husband and wife whose convictions for offences linked to the interrogation and killing of a police informer were quashed are to go before the UK's highest court in a bid to discover exactly why they were cleared.

James Martin and Veronica Ryan have so far been denied full reasons why a confidential dossier rendered the guilty verdicts against them unsafe.

But in a significant development senior judges in Belfast today certified a legal question for their lawyers to take to the Supreme Court in London.

Amid speculation that the dossier contains material on intelligence agents, it is believed to be the first challenge of its kind in the UK.

The west Belfast couple were both convicted of the false imprisonment of Joe Fenton, a Special Branch agent shot dead after being lured to a house in the city in February 1989.

Mr Martin, who was also found guilty of making property available for terrorism, was later sentenced to four years imprisonment.

His wife, formerly known as Veronica Martin, was jailed for six months.

Their case was referred back to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which examines potential miscarriages of justice.

It was given access to sensitive material which had not been made available at the trial.

In 2012 it emerged that Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory believed the guilty verdicts should be quashed.

But the Secretary of State issued a Public Interest Immunity (PII) certificate protect the confidential dossier containing relevant sensitive material.

Last month the Court of Appeal ruled that the convictions must be quashed due to a serious failure in the prosecution's disclosure obligations at trial.

However, judges held that the public interest would be undermined by revealing the material covered by the PII certificate.

Lawyers for the couple returned today to seek permission to take their battle to find out the reasons to the Supreme Court.

Although leave was formally refused, judges agreed to certify a question on whether the principles of open justice require a judgment containing a resume or gist of the information contained in the PII certificate.

It will now be up to the Supreme Court to decide whether it wants to examine the case.

Following the outcome the couple's solicitor said it was the first application of its type.

Kevin Winters of KRW Law said: "The issue at the heart of this case is the entitlement of an accused person to know the reasons why he or she has been acquitted.

"It's my understanding this has never happened before in UK jurisprudence."

Expressing confidence that the Supreme Court will want to hear their petition, he added: "It offends the principle of open justice for the prosecution to oppose the accused having access to that material."

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