Chief prosecutor dismisses political decision-making claims in ex-soldier cases
Northern Ireland's chief prosecutor has dismissed as unfounded claims that he engaged in political decision-making over whether to take cases against former soldiers.
The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) reminded public representatives of their responsibilities to maintain public confidence in the criminal justice system.
Sir Henry Bellingham, Conservative MP for North West Norfolk, told Westminster that Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory was prepared to shift from decision-making based on credible evidence to that influenced by politics. But in a relatively small number of cases Mr McGrory has excused himself from the process over potential concerns of a conflict of interest.
A PPS spokesman said: "It is disappointing to note the unfounded nature of some of the comments made in this debate and we would wish to remind those in public office of the responsibilities they hold to maintain public confidence in the criminal justice system."
Mr McGrory worked as a lawyer on behalf of Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and other high-profile clients across both communities.
He has excused himself from decisions on whether to prosecute Mr Adams, suspects in the Robert Hamill sectarian murder case and Bloody Sunday following past involvement with them as a lawyer.
Sir Henry addressed a debate on Northern Ireland in Westminster using parliamentary privilege.
He said there had been an outbreak of "revisionism" after Corporal Major Dennis Hutchings was charged with an attempted murder in Co Tyrone in 1974.
Sir Henry said: "What has changed is that the DPP in Northern Ireland is now Barra McGrory QC - the same person who represented Martin McGuinness in the Saville inquiry.
"This is the person who is prepared to move away from credible evidence to political decision-making, which I find very worrying. It has to be stopped. There are potentially 278 more cases involving the security forces.
"I do not want any more veterans to be dragged out of their retirement homes any more than I want Sinn Fein councillors to be dragged out of council chambers."
Sir Henry is a former Foreign Office minister and has also argued for the disbandment of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team.
Mr McGrory worked on a series of high-profile cases including the Bloody Sunday Inquiry.
In 2013, following a critical report from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, the Police Service of Northern Ireland said all military cases would be re-examined for any opportunities to gather evidence in line with national standards.
The PPS statement said: " The Westminster debate reflects the political interest in historic criminal cases potentially involving military personnel.
"A number of such cases have been referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions by the Attorney General of Northern Ireland and have been the subject of investigation by PSNI Legacy Branch.
"When these investigation files are submitted to the PPS, the Test for Prosecution is applied without fear, favour or prejudice, in strict accordance with the Code for Prosecutors.
"While political representatives may have an interest in such cases, the public can be assured of the rigour of the processes put in place by the Director of Public Prosecutions to ensure that this will never be allowed to influence the proper taking of prosecutorial decisions."