Bail scandal: judiciary say nothing, justice minister takes week to respond

Claire Sugden pictured outside Parliament Buildings as part of an anti-crime gang advertising campaign
Claire Sugden pictured outside Parliament Buildings as part of an anti-crime gang advertising campaign

The office of the Lord Chief Justice – who heads up the Province’s judiciary – has refused to comment on the McLaughlin case a week after news that he went missing emerged.

Meanwhile, justice minister Claire Sugden finally issued a very basic statement about the scandal on Friday afternoon, after having been pressed repeatedly by the News Letter since Monday.

On Monday, the News Letter had asked the Lord Chief Justice’s office if it wished to respond to the criticisms of the decision to grant bail to him (and of his bail terms having been watered down), or to offer any comment at large on the perception that bail is much more readily granted to murder and terrorism suspects in Northern Ireland than in other parts of the UK.

It said, firstly, that it did not want to comment on the McLaughlin case. And on the second point it referred the News Letter to documents showing that a review was proposed during the summer to gather the facts around bail for serious alleged offenders (the Department of Justice has since confirmed this review is under way, but there are no details on when it will be ready).

Asked again on Friday for a comment, the response came: “This office has nothing further to add to what we have said previously.”

Also on Friday, a statement from Claire Sugden (an independent unionist who took up the justice post in May) said: “I am deeply concerned about this issue, and am actively pursuing information from the Chief Constable on the events that lead to the circumstances now being reported.

“I deeply regret the further hurt and distress that this situation has caused the Black family and welcome the fact that the Police Ombudsman is now looking into this issue.”