Northern Ireland

Amendment to block Adams internment legal claim branded ‘draconian’ by lawyer

Former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams is pursuing a legal claim against the Government (Liam McBurney/PA)
Former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams is pursuing a legal claim against the Government (Liam McBurney/PA)

Amendments to the Government’s legacy Bill, which would block a number of former republican prisoners from claiming compensation over internment without trial in the 1970s, have been described by a lawyer as “draconian”.

Former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was among those who could have pursued compensation after he was interned without trial in 1973 at Long Kesh internment camp, also known as the Maze prison.

In 2020 the UK Supreme Court ruled Mr Adams’ detention was unlawful because the interim custody order used to initially detain him had not been “considered personally” by the then-secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Willie Whitelaw.

This was despite a long-standing convention, known as the Carltona principle, where officials and ministers routinely act in the name of the secretary of state, who is ultimately responsible.

David Trimble funeral
Lord Caine (Liam McBurney/PA)

Last week, Northern Ireland Office minister Lord Caine told peers that a Government-backed amendment to the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill is aimed at addressing the loophole.

The amendment, published at the weekend, seeks to clarify that legislation underpinning internment can be read as having allowed junior ministers to make interim custody orders.

A separate amendment also sets out that compensation and civil action may not be sought or continued if it involves an interim custody order that is deemed unlawful because it was authorised by a junior minister.

Legal firm KRW Law said it had been instructed in more than 50 cases of former republican internees who are challenging the Government on the legality of their detention in the early 1970s.

The firm said the introduction of the amendments will effectively prevent dozens from suing for damages for illegal detention.

Solicitor Gary Duff said: “This is a draconian and retrograde step.

“The proposed legislative change, if it goes through, amounts to political interference of the most excessive kind to prevent claimants pursuing their legal rights through the courts.

“It is a clear example of further political-executive interference with the lawful out workings of independent judicial process.

“After many months of negotiating with the Public Record Office for Northern Ireland to access all detention record relating to those we represent, we have just received a number of files clearly disclosing that the wrong signatures were assigned on many ICO forms which establishes clear grounds for challenge before the courts.”

Mr Duff said it was a “blatant attempt to ignore the clear judicial authority of the UK Supreme Court judgment”.