November 26, 2013

Newton Emerson on Larkin's de facto amnesty

Newton Emerson wrote in the Sunday Times of November 24 2013 an article in response to the John Larkin's call for a de facto amnesty. He said:
"Larkin also proposes that the warehouse of files and evidence held by the PSNI's HET should be made available to victims and relatives on a non-disclosure "freedom of information plus" basis, having first been redacted to protect the right to life of anyone named. Managing that without lawyers would be quite an achievement.   
There are 3,000 unsolved murders from the Troubles. Would it be legally possible to deny all those families the justice they have a right to expect, both from the state (criminal) and to pursue by civil action themselves?"
Newton Emerson addressed the issue of the civil law:
"Preventing civil claims and prosecutions should be relatively straightforward. Larkin suggests passing legislation in London and Dublin setting a statute of limitations on murders prior to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Most civil offences already have a stature of limitations of 3 to 6 years."
He then addressed the criminal law:
"Preventing criminal prosecutions would be another matter. Article 2 of the ECHR, enshrined in British and Irish law, requires the state to investigate fully all suspicious deaths. This is generally interpreted to rule out blanket amnesties. 
Larkin points out that the ECHR has granted Article 2 exemptions to facilitate amnesties elsewhere, while elements of an amnesty have been implicitly accepted in several peace-process deals, most notably on arms decommissioning and locating the bodies of the Disappeared."
That law relating to the Disappeared is the Northern Ireland (Location of Victims’ Remains) Act 1999 which enacted a de facto amnesty. However this law has not produced the absolute truth of those events. Newton Emerson concluded:
"Larkin has done no harm by aiming his own kick at this drawn-out choreography, but experience shows an amnesty would be workable only with near universal support. Delivering that kind of consensus is beyond the law, and almost certainly beyond Northern Ireland politics.

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