False information maliciously provided to a new body dealing with legacy issues could jeopardise future criminal prosecutions, the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has said.
In its response to the NIO’s proposals on how we deal with Troubles-era crimes, the PPS highlighted a number of concerns around the Independent Commission for Information Retrieval (ICIR) and what it called the “operation of parallel processes” dealing with justice issues.
Some of the concerns relate to the proposed Historical Inquiry Unit (HIU) producing criminal investigation reports for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) – and how that might impact on the independence that exists between an investigator and a prosecutor.
The NIO’s consultation process – Addressing the Legacy of Northern Ireland’s Past – was launched in May this year and concluded last Friday.
A number of leading unionists, as well as the Police Federation NI, have called for the government proposals to be either radically amended or scrapped altogether.
In the PPS submission, which it published on Monday, the prosecuting body said: “There is the potential for anyone disposed to prejudice a potential or actual prosecution to seek to exploit the ICIR process for that purpose.
“An example of this would be where false information is fed into the system with the intention that a family report is produced containing information that undermines the prosecution case or assists the defence case.”
Although the government’s draft Bill makes it clear that information provided to the ICIR is “not admissible in any legal proceedings,” it could become “relevant” to criminal proceedings.
As such, the PPS said it could provide a “narrative that is inconsistent with the prosecution case and, by inference, points away from the involvement of the defendant”.
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Stephen Herron, said: “We have carefully considered the detailed proposals from a prosecutorial perspective.
“We are in agreement with the view that the system currently used is not delivering enough for victims, survivors and wider society. We can see that this is largely due to disjointed criminal justice processes and insufficient funding for institutions to deliver within acceptable timeframes.”
Mr Herron added: “It will be my priority to ensure that ... the same level of careful prosecutorial analysis, rigour in decision-making and sensitive and appropriate treatment of victims’ families and witnesses is delivered.”