Northern Ireland news

Review after barristers cleared of misconduct in IRA rape case

Senator Máiría Cahill

EXCLUSIVE: The Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory has requested a review after the barristers leading three failed cases into alleged rape and IRA cover-up were cleared of misconduct by their professional body.

The two lawyers were referred to the Bar Council's Professional Conduct Committee following a formal complaint by Mr McGrory.

Three women, including Senator Máiría Cahill, accused an IRA member of abusing them as children in three connected cases, but later withdrew their evidence.

An independent review of the cases by former England and Wales DPP Sir Keir Starmer stated there was no "improper motivation" but the PPS and prosecuting counsel had "let down" the victims, prompting Mr McGrory to issue a personal apology.

It found "shortfalls" in the service provided by particular team members and counsel.

TUV leader and barrister Jim Allister said the Bar Council development "turns the Starmer report into a bit of a damp squib".

"The DPP has apologised, but now the Professional Conduct Committee finds no one at fault," he said.

"So what were the apologies for?"

In May, Mr McGrory acknowledged that "key staff did not properly perform their roles" - but yesterday the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) confirmed that, rather than a disciplinary procedure, there had been "a review of training needs" and "enhancement of a programme to support prosecutors in areas of complex law".

The conduct committee met in December to consider whether the barristers' handling of the case amounted to professional misconduct.

The three main charges against them concerned:

* The "provision of advices by counsel" - "failure" by senior PPS staff and counsel properly to analyse how to treat the IRA membership and investigation evidence in the sexual abuse case.

* Their involvement in the decision to reverse the sequencing of the trials (sex abuse and IRA membership) - the Starmer report stated that "Leading Counsel should have provided his concluded views on the issue to the PPS and sought instructions in advance of the hearing".

* The failure to object firmly to the adjournment of the trial date of October 8 2012.

Findings, seen by the Irish News, clear the barristers in each of three main charges against them.

The committee said, in relation to the advice, "none of the questions were straightforward and likely to attract differing views amongst practitioners and indeed judges", with criticism made "with the benefit of hindsight".

In relation to the resequencing of the trials, their actions "could not be considered in a vacuum... there are other influencing bodies, specifically the police, the victims, the PPS, the defence legal team and the court".

It also found the failure to oppose the adjournment of the case "was not... a matter of professional misconduct but rather reflective of a detailed request for disclosure of documents by the defence legal team".

The Bar Council confirmed a review is now under way.

A PPS spokeswoman said it is "dissatisfied" with the findings.

"The director also requested that the Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) should consider the actions of counsel instructed in the case," she said.

"This has found no case to answer. The PPS has formally expressed its dissatisfaction with the report provided and has requested a review. Until this process is complete it would not be appropriate to make any further comment on the matter."

She said the service had commissioned the Starmer Review "to ensure that any lessons that needed to be learned, would be".

The PPS said the "series of recommendations to improve services" have "all now been actioned", and the director has "put in place a range of positive measures", including creating of a new centralised unit of senior prosecutors to deal with serious offences such as sex abuse.

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