Northern Ireland news

Analysis: War time doctrine overturned in Gerry Adams Supreme Court case

Gerry Adams who has had a conviction linked to an escape during a period of internment quashed.

THE Supreme Court ruling, quashing an historic conviction against former Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, not only has implications in Northern Ireland, but could change how government departments delegate duties in the future.

The unanimous ruling, delivered by Lord Kerr, the former Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, considered the Carltona doctrine, sometimes known as the Carltona principle, which dates back to war time Britain and has held precedent since 1943.

Until now Carltona provided power in statute that a duly authorised official in a government department could act on the minister's behalf.

However that doctrine, common in all aspects of modern governance, may need to be overhauled in light of the significant judgment handed down by the Supreme Court in R v Adams.

While the case is likely to result in hundreds of former detainees, both loyalists and republican, challenging the lawfulness of their detention, it has much more far reaching political consequences.

It may lead to a significant number of government decisions taken by officials being challenged as having no legal effect, the knock-on of which is a huge consideration for any ministerial department, including the devolved institutions at Stormont.

Locally it will also feed into the, at times, toxic legacy debate.

With the past still unresolved, and the British government attempting to overule the Stormont House agreement in favour of the their own legacy arrangements, preventing further scrutiny of State actions, there are those who will now point to how this ruling changes the playing field.

It has previously been argued the policy of internment - that often saw multiple members of the same family held without evidence of wrongdoing - was one the IRA's greatest recruitment tool.

It lit a fire under parts of Northern Ireland and radicalised a generation of young men and women. It left many others struggling to rebuild their lives due to the stigma of imprisonment and the implications for future employment.

The cost to life in terms of the length of time it may have prolonged the Troubles is arguable and open to various interpretations.

What is clear though is that the financial cost to the British government is now set to escalate, with millions of pounds in compensation potentially to be paid to those whose detention without trial is now legally unlawful.

Internment, a badly thought out and executed policy in the 1970s, is now back to haunt the British government almost 50 years later.

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