Outspoken Larkin's tenure as Attorney General extended

By David Young

NORTHERN Ireland's oft-controversial Attorney General has been re-appointed for another two years.

John Larkin QC has found himself embroiled in a number of political storms since his initial appointment as the powersharing executive's legal adviser in 2010.

Uncertainty over whether his services would be retained when his term of office came to an end this year have now been put to rest by First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in a short statement announcing his tenure was being extended until the end of June 2016.

Mr Larkin, who commands a salary of £200,000 a year, is the first to hold the role of attorney general to a devolved Stormont administration since direct rule was imposed at the height of the Troubles in 1972.

He has certainly not shielded away from thorny issues in his four years in post, perhaps most controversially last year when he proposed an end to prosecutions in cases related to the Troubles.

In 2012 the Attorney General took a court action against ex-Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain over critical comments he made about a judge in his autobiography.

The action, in which Mr Larkin invoked apparently archaic legislation, was ultimately dropped after Mr Hain clarified his remarks.

A devout Catholic with a well-known pro-life attitude on the abortion issue, he courted controversy again in 2012 when he volunteered his services to Stormont's justice committee to assist in an inquiry - up to and including questioning witnesses on the committee's behalf - into a newly opened Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast.

In another row, the UK government moved to distance itself from Mr Larkin's intervention in a gay adoption case brought by two Austrian lesbians in the European Court of Human Rights.

Mr Larkin made a submission to the court arguing that countries like Austria and Northern Ireland should have the right to opt out of same sex adoption legislation.

On the latter two issues, Mr Larkin's critics questioned whether he was over-reaching the remit of his office and allowing his personal views to influence his work.

Throughout his time in post, the Attorney General has in

sisted he has worked to serve the public interest in matters of law.

Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness were under no illusion they were getting a shrinking violet when they first appointed him in 2010.

The year before the barrister had been involved in hard-hitting court room exchanges with the DUP's Ian Paisley Jnr, who has since succeeded his father as MP for North Antrim, as he prosecuted the politician for refusing to identify a whistleblower.

Mr Larkin was educated at St Mary's Christian Brothers' Grammar School near his home in west Belfast and went on to study law at Queen's University in the city.

He was called to the Bar in 1986 and three years later was appointed Reid professor of criminal law, criminology and penal law at Trinity College, Dublin.

He returned to Northern Ireland in the 1990s to resume work in the courts.

An expert in civil law, he specialised in administrative law, civil liberties and human rights, competition and constitutional law, defamation and judicial review.

In a brief statement after his re-appointment was announced, Mr Larkin said: "I'm delighted to continue to serve as Attorney General for Northern Ireland.

"As I have said publicly, more than once, it is an honour and privilege to serve the public and the rule of law as the first devolved Attorney since 1972."


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