Letters of claim lodged for 200 former internees
More than 250 former internees have lodged a claim with the High Court following the Supreme Court ruling earlier this month which quashed historic convictions against veteran republican Gerry Adams.
The former Sinn Féin leader claimed his two 1975 convictions were unsafe because his detention was not "personally considered" by the then-secretary of state for Northern Ireland Willie Whitelaw.
Mr Adams, 71, attempted to escape from the Maze - also known as Long Kesh internment camp - on Christmas Eve 1973 and again in July 1974. He was later sentenced to a total of four-and-a-half years.
At a hearing in November, Mr Adams' lawyers argued that because the interim custody order (ICO) used to initially detain him in July 1973 was not authorised by the minister, therefore his detention was unlawful and his convictions should be overturned.
Solicitor Pádraig Ó Muirigh said his clients believe they were subject of an unlawful Interim Custody Order in circumstances where the "prerequisites of consideration by the then Secretary of State were not fulfilled".
"In circumstances where it was the function and sole responsibility of the Secretary of State to properly consider each and every application for an Interim Custody Order, we will be putting the Secretary of State to his proofs to demonstrate such lawful consideration was given in relation to each of our clients", Mr Ó Muirigh added.
Along with the 200 men and women represented by Ó Muirigh solicitors, it is estimated that up to 600 former internees could be eligible for compensation for unlawful detention following the Supreme Court judgment.
Mr Ó Muirigh said: "Since the Supreme Court judgment we have been reviewing our clients prison files and have found an absence of evidence of consideration of the applications by the relevant Secretary of State, whether during the tenure of William Whitelaw, Francis Pym or indeed Merlyn Rees who served as Secretary of State when internment ceased in late 1975.
"We are also reviewing the lawfulness of the detention without trial of our around a further 200 clients from the 9th August 1971 until November 1972 under the earlier Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act 1922.
"This recent judgment by the Supreme Court has again brought into fresh focus the failed policy of internment and its questionable legal framework", he added.
KRW Law who act on behalf of 30 ex- republican and 19 loyalist internees said they have also been authorised to issue proceedings against the Secretary of State, NIO , PSNI and MOD "alleging false imprisonment. unlawful detention, assault, battery and trespass arising out of Interim Custody Orders served from 1972 –75".
One of the main cases involves republican Tony Sloan who was interned three times and was one of the last internees when released in December 1975.
Solicitor Kevin Winters said “The first so called ex- loyalist internment case was due for full hearing before the High court on 19/5/20 but was taken out because of the COVID- 19 crisis.
"The adjournment could not have been more timely given the prospective significance of the Adams ruling on both sets of cases. From initial assessment on some of the papers it seems the necessary protocol was not in place including crucially an absence of the signature of the Secretary of State on the ICOs.
"We expect the case to be heard later this year when the full impact of that ruling will be made known".