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Law Lords reject Holy Cross policing challenge

By David Gordon

A Law Lord has rebuked the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission over its intervention in a legal case arising from the Holy Cross dispute.



The comments were made in a judgement rejecting a challenge against the policing of the loyalist blockade seven years ago.

The scenes outside Holy Cross Girls’ Primary School in north Belfast were beamed across the world in the autumn of 2001, as children and parents ran a gauntlet of hate each morning.

A legal case was taken on behalf of one of the pupils, on the basis that police should have taken a tougher line with protesters. The challenge was unsuccessful in the courts here, and was then taken to the House of Lords.

A Law Lords’ judgement issued yesterday dismissed the appeal, while issuing strong words of condemnation of the notorious loyalist blockade.

It also spelt out the police’s defence of its actions, including its view that forcing the loyalists back would have created a serious danger of escalating violence

There was criticism of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) on its involvement in the case as a third party.

In the judgement, Lord Hoffman said the House had frequently been assisted by submissions from public authorities.

“An intervention is, however, of no assistance if it merely repeats points which the appellant or respondent has already made,” he stated.

The Law Lord continued: “I am bound to say that in this appeal the oral submissions on behalf of the NIHRC only repeated in rather more emphatic terms the points which had already been quite adequately argued by counsel for the appellant. In future, I hope that interveners will avoid unnecessarily taking up the time of the House in this way.”

In a statement last night, the Human Rights Commission said it was “surprised and disappointed” by Lord Hoffman’s view. It also said it had been vindicated by the lead judgment, delivered by Lord Carswell.

“We must stress the Commission did not take this case but rather intervened on legal points, one of which was accepted by the House,” the body added.

“Furthermore the Commission was vindicated in its intervention by Lord Carswell’s judgement that the Court of Appeal applied the incorrect legal test on the Holy Cross case.

“It was the House of Lords itself, who after considering the initial legal arguments made by the Commission, granted us leave to make submissions in this case.”

Meanwhile, the law firm that represented the Holy Cross pupil may now take the case to Europe.

Fearghal Shiels, of Madden and Finucane Solicitors, said: “We are giving serious consideration to an application to the European Court of Human Rights.”

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