Legacy investigation time `may not be achievable' - PPS chief

Director of Public Prosecutions Stephen Herron - the PPS submission warns the additional caseload will add to the `extreme pressure' on the organisation

PROPOSALS to deal with the legacy of the Troubles contain a number of fundamental flaws including an investigation time which "may not be achievable", Northern Ireland's chief prosecutor has said.

Director of Public Prosecutions Stephen Herron has responded to the NIO's consultation on its plans by laying out in forensic detail contradictions within the proposals which could jeopardise future prosecutions of Troubles' murders and current serious crime and terror cases.

The intervention is the latest blow to the government's plans, which are opposed by the UUP and the Police Federation, which branded it heavily biased and "a travesty for the rule of law".

Meanwhile, the DUP has called for "significant amendment".

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) submission warns the additional caseload will add to the "extreme pressure" on the organisation, which has absorbed multi-million pound budget cuts in recent years, while already processing many legacy cases.

It cautions that historic Troubles cases "create capacity issues for the PPS as there is no separate funding stream for PPS to draw from to deal with legacy work, and resources have to be balanced alongside other important casework pressures such as serious sexual offences and current terrorist prosecutions".

The PPS also warns that the government is underestimating the time allotted to investigative work in the proposals.

"The draft Bill provides for an initial investigatory phase of five years which can be subject to one year extensions thereafter. The experience of the PPS would indicate that this timeframe may not be achievable."

It also highlights the lack of expertise within the north's legal fraternity to handle the cases.

"Northern Ireland is a small jurisdiction and the pool of criminal lawyers with the necessary experience to undertake this type of work is limited," the submission notes.

If an Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) was former, the PPS may need to "attract experienced lawyers from outside the jurisdiction and the development of training programmes.... (but) the extent to which the PPS can be successful in doing so is unclear".

However, one of the most serious flaws highlighted is with a proposed Independent Commission on Information Retrieval (ICIR), designed to offer `a non-criminal justice route by which families can, upon request, seek and receive information about deaths'.

The PPS warn it could be used to prejudice future criminal cases.

"There is the potential for anyone disposed to prejudice a potential or actual prosecution to seek to exploit the ICIR process for that purpose.

"An example of this would be where false information is fed into the system with the intention that a family report is produced containing information that undermines the prosecution case or assists the defence case."

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