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SDLP MLA hits out at calls to use Diplock trials to ease legal system strain during coronavirus lockdown

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Criticism: Patsy McGlone

Criticism: Patsy McGlone

Criticism: Patsy McGlone

An SDLP MLA has rejected calls from a leading human rights lawyer to introduce trials with no jury to ease pressure on the justice system during lockdown.

Geoffrey Robertson QC said defendants should be given the option of trial by a judge instead.

Mr Robertson claimed the move "would be a boon to defendants with good cases who do not want justice delayed".

Writing in The Guardian newspaper, he pointed to the use of Diplock courts during the Troubles as a positive example.

"There were civil liberty concerns at first, but the Northern Ireland judges were generally astute and rejected some high-profile RUC prosecutions," Mr Robertson said.

"There is a rarely used power for prosecutors to apply for trial by judge alone, but only if they can show that the defendant is bent on jury tampering."

SDLP's justice spokesman Patsy McGlone said Mr Robertson's suggestion was inappropriate.

"The use of Diplock courts during the Covid-19 period is a non-runner," he added.

"We should not seek to revisit a system that restricts the right of defendants to trial by a jury of their peers in the interests of administrative speed.

"This crisis is challenging the administration of public services in every aspect of our lives.

"The challenge to the justice system is particularly profound after a decade of austerity, but the answer is to enhance the judicial process post-lockdown.

"Open up more court space, bring every judicial, recorder and senior barrister hand on deck, sit for longer and at weekends.

"There is a cost implication to all of this, but when we're dealing with the lives and liberty of defendants, we cannot sacrifice their rights any further."

Diplock trials were named after Lord Diplock, who published a report in 1972 on dealing with terrorist offences in court.

More than 300 such trials were held a year at one point.

They were officially abolished in 2007, but non-jury trials are still used in terror-related cases.

Belfast Telegraph