Royal pardon use 'should be published in future'
Use of the royal pardon in Northern Ireland should be published in future, the Government said.
Ministers again ruled out revealing the names of paramilitaries who have already received the Royal Prerogative of Mercy (RPM) because it could jeopardise future prosecutions.
They were used in a number of terrorism-related cases to shorten prison sentences in the years immediately after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The pardon allows changes in sentences without the backing of, or consultation with, parliament.
The Government said: "In any case in future where use of the RPM is considered in Northern Ireland to grant a free pardon, the Government will take full account of the committee's recommendation and the expectation will be that such a use will be published in the Belfast Gazette."
Ministers will establish a register for current and future use of the RPM in Northern Ireland. P ublishing the use of the RPM in the London Gazette for cases in England and Wales only applies where the RPM has been used to grant a free pardon - not where one has been used to shorten sentences.
The use of pardons, issued by the Queen on advice from her ministers, dates back decades.
Senior Democratic Unionists have called on the Government to name recipients involved in Northern Ireland crimes who received them. The practice was highlighted during investigations into a controversial On The Runs (OTRs) scheme.
The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of MPs probed the Government's OTRs system which began when Tony Blair was prime minister and collapsed the trial of John Downey, from Co Donegal in the Irish Republic, over the murder of four soldiers during the 1982 Hyde Park bombing.
OTRs is the term used to refer to people who are suspected of, but who have not been charged or convicted of, paramilitary offences during the conflict.
It was a process that involved letters being given to republican paramilitary suspects assuring them that they were not wanted by police anywhere in the UK, but not ruling out future prosecutions if new evidence became available.
Mr Downey received one in error while sought by the Metropolitan Police over Hyde Park.
Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has repeatedly denied the letters constituted an amnesty and said they should not impede future prosecutions.
RPMs were used in 16 terrorism-related cases in the years immediately after the Good Friday Agreement to shorten sentences.
The committee published the Government's response to its report on Tuesday.
It said: "The Government has made clear its position on publishing the names of individuals who are in receipt of the RPM.
"The Government does not consider it appropriate to publish the names given the legal and privacy concerns that are present.
"There is a risk that by publishing names relating to individuals that received the RPM or letter under the OTR scheme, that this would jeopardise future prosecutions, either make them more difficult or increase the risk of an abuse of process argument being successfully run."