Friday, 6 February 2004

Diplock mk2

Clive Summerfield @ Friday, February 06, 2004
These courts are one of the distinctive features that make Northern Ireland a very different place from the rest of Britain. Many major crimes are tried by judges alone, without a jury, because of the danger of intimidation by paramilitary groups. The courts were set up after Lord Diplock published a report in 1972 recommending non-jury trials and the easier use of confessions to convict suspected guerrillas.

Oh what a crazy country. As recently as 1996 the Labour Party - in opposition - voted against the government's anti-terrorism legislation, not because it was against such legislation in principle, but rather because one aspect that it would liked to have seen removed was the Diplock Court system. Once in power, the supporting legislation was instead extended. Sad enough for a party once so critical in opposition, but understandable. After all, in emergency situations powers are sometimes required which would otherwise not be necessary. And many would agree that in Ulster conditions had potentially warranted the exercise of such powers at times. After all, at the peak of the Troubles, terrorist acts of violence against the community at large were commonplace.

Since 9/11 the World has been perceived to be a less safe place. All remember the horror of the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon. Back in the U.K. though, more people have died as a consequence of accidents on the railways than have suffered at the hands of Al Qaeda. So why in God's name does David Blunkett feel the need to introduce some form of Diplock System for terror cases in this country? Barristers involved in the process have described the proposal for "secret non-jury" trials as untenable. Nothing new there then, this government being particularly fond of not only proposing, but also attempting to implement other untenable "bright ideas". Not only does our esteemed Home Secretary desire the introduction of "trial-by-judge", but he also suggests a "lower burden of proof" be required for conviction in these courts.

Given this government's ability to go to war on the thinnest  most insubstantial evidence, one can only assume that these courts would have more in common with the Salem Witch Trials than any form of recognisable justice. The law may well be an ass, but it would seem that in the UK today, justice is blind.

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