Peter Robinson has welcomed an interview given by the Lord Chief Justice in which he vows to “restore public confidence” after questions were raised over an apparent imbalance in bail hearings in recent weeks.
Sir Declan Morgan told the BBC he recognised that currently “there is a perception”, referring to the recent cases where some within the Unionist community have felt concerned at seeing loyalist flag protestors remanded in custody while republicans on murder charges have been bailed.
Sir Declan said he is keen to reassure people of the fairness of the justice system, responding to criticism from some politicians.
“It seems to me that part of the role of elected representatives is to ensure they articulate the concerns of their constituents and part of the reason for doing so is so that members of the justice systems, such as myself, are alert to the fact that these concerns are there,” he said.
“Obviously it does concern me that there may be members of the community who for one reason or the other question their confidence in the system of the administration of justice.
In a statement on Monday evening the First Minister said: “I welcome this very open and helpful intervention by the Lord Chief Justice on behalf of the Judiciary.
“Sir Declan Morgan’s recognition that there are perception issues and his desire to ‘restore public confidence’ is especially welcome.
“It is important that decisions are fully explained and understood by the public. Clear explanations will undoubtedly help and strengthen public confidence in our justice system.”
During Northern Ireland Questions in Parliament last week DUP MP Nigel Dodds raised the issue with Theresa Villiers, but later during a bail hearing a judge criticised politicians for having “ill-informed debate” on the different cases.
DUP leader Robinson added: “I also note, contrary to the views of some commentators and other politicians, Sir Declan emphasised that politicians ‘should be free to express their views about the justice system’. Indeed, he said, ‘part of the role of elected representatives is to ensure they articulate the concerns of their constituents and part of the reason for doing so is so that members of the justice systems, such as myself, are alert to the fact that these concerns are there’.
“Whilst some criticised me for speaking out, I hope they now recognise the importance of addressing perceptions rather than hiding and ignoring them. I have consistently said that the real threat to the rule of law is not asking questions and raising legitimate issues of perception, but the failure to adequately explain why decisions are taken.
“I continue to urge people to give support to the police and courts and where there are doubts about fairness to have them ventilated through the political process.”