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State papers: Files reveal ‘imbalance in judiciary'

Security forces at the scene of the IRA murder of Mary Travers
Éamon Phoenix

A SEVERE under-representation of Catholics in the judiciary was due largely to intimidation, state papers reveal.

In a memo entitled A Critique of NI Justice, David Hill noted an imbalance.

Of nine supreme court judges only two were Catholic and only one of the 12 county court judges was too, "though another is married to a Catholic", he added.

Mr Hill noted that since 1974 when the British Lord Chancellor became directly responsible for the NI Court Service, he had made "strenuous efforts to improve the balance by offering a post to suitably-qualified Catholic barristers and solicitors".

However, "very few Catholics apply for or accept judicial posts because of intimidation.

Two Catholic judges have been murdered by republican terrorists as has one Catholic RM; another (Judge Tom Travers) was severely injured and his daughter murdered on their way home from Mass".

Mr Hill concluded: "That republican terrorists single out Catholic members of the judiciary is demonstrated by the fact that only one Protestant judge has been murdered."

In a general comment on the judicial system, he argued that there were many examples of cases where the courts had "demonstrated a determination to impose a strict interpretation of the law whatever the circumstances".

In his view, the classic case was the acquittal of one Brophy of the La Mon Hotel murders in 1978.

Although the defendant admitted to the judge that he was a member of the Provisional IRA, the NI Court of Appeal and the House of Lords held that this acknowledgement could not be treated as evidence of Brophy's guilt.

On the other hand, the official went on, some judges were perceived as being soft on the security forces and many were presented as being particularly hard on Republican paramilitaries.

"It is alleged that the listing of cases has been arranged to ensure that members of the security forces are tried by 'sympathetic' judges.

The obiter dicta of Lord Justice Gibson in the trial of RUC members for the alleged murder of suspected terrorists in south Armagh in the late 1980s may have reinforced such perceptions, but the furore which those remarks aroused in legal circles is itself clear evidence that they were widely seen to be improper."

Judge Maurice Gibson was assassinated with his wife by the IRA on the border in 1987.

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