Officials thought of asking the Queen to pardon terror suspect

Lady Justice Dame Heather Hallett
Lady Justice Dame Heather Hallett

Unidentified government officials considered asking the Queen to pardon someone who was on the run — despite the individual credible evidence that they were involved in terrorist crimes, yesterday’s report reveals.

The allegation, which is buried in the 272-page report, sheds new light on the use of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy (RPM)as part of the peace process.

The Rt Hon Lady Justice Hallett DBE Vice President of the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday July 15, 2014

The Rt Hon Lady Justice Hallett DBE Vice President of the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday July 15, 2014

The report gives the impression that such a proposal was never put to the Queen. But it does make clear that in other cases, where an individual had been convicted of a terrorist crime and had served some time in prison, the government put those names to the Queen and “invited” her to pardon the individuals.

The report paints a picture of an utterly ruthlessly pragmatic government which was determined to keep Sinn Fein and the IRA on board as the peace process suffered repeated setbacks.

However, Dame Hallett said that in her view the government’s actions in dealing with on the runs were not illegal.

The report said: “The legality and practicality of using the RPM to pardon those who had not been convicted was explored, but the RPM was not in fact used in that way.

“Consideration was given, for example, to inviting Her Majesty the Queen to exercise the RPM in favour of one individual (X) against whom there remained sufficient evidence to justify prosecution for alleged terrorist offences, on the basis that X’s contribution was vital to the peace process.

“However, the RPM was never exercised in X’s favour and X did not receive a letter of assurance during the operation of the scheme.”

Dame Hallett said she “believed” that 13 of the names on her list from the period between 2000 and 2002 were given Royal pardons.

But she added: “Surprisingly, there seems to be no central register of documents recording the use of the RPM.”

She went on: “There is no legal obligation to publish the exercise of the RPM.

“By convention, the use of the RPM to grant a free pardon (which is not relevant here and is a truly exceptional measure) is published in the London Gazette. It is not the usual practice to publish the use of the RPM to remit sentences; hence there was no publication of its use for the 13 OTRs.”

Dame Hallett also insisted that “the administrative scheme was not kept secret or highly confidential”.

“Dozens of police officers, prison officers, government officials and politicians must have known that some kind of scheme was in operation by which individuals received assurances.

“However, details of the scheme were not given much publicity and important groups such as organisations set up to represent the interests of victims...remained unaware of the existence of the scheme. Even the politically active complain that knowledge of the scheme would have involved considerable work in putting together the pieces of a jigsaw.”

Dame Hallett said she had only identified one reference to a request by Sinn Fein to keep the scheme “invisible”, something she said was disputed by Gerry Adams and “would have run counter to Sinn Féin’s general approach, which was to demand public statements on how the issue of OTRs was to be resolved”.

She found “no evidence of the UK Government actively seeking to obscure the scheme from the public”, despite admitting that the Government had taken “a minimalist approach to publicising the scheme”.

She found that the scheme “was not unlawful in principle” and “ did not grant immunity from prosecution”.

“The scheme was unprecedented. It involved receiving names from a political party and a foreign government for consideration, conducting a review of the evidence on the basis that the individual was not present in the jurisdiction and would not be available for questioning, and telling people they either were or were not ‘wanted’.

“It is for others to judge whether or not the political imperative justified the introduction of this extraordinary (in the true sense of the word) scheme for extraordinary circumstances.”