We must be told why NI courts treat bail so lightly in terror cases

Morning View
Morning View

Again this week in a court case relating to serious charges – in this example a charge of attempted murder of a policeman – bail terms for the defendant have been eased.

The charges include directing terror. The requirement for the defendant to report to police has been cut from daily to three times a week. Prosecutors and police did not oppose the bid but say they would have done.

This follows the saga last year when a man on dissident charges, including aiding and abetting murder, had his bail terms eased, but did not sign on with police as required. This went unnoticed for seven weeks, by when he had absconded.

In a third case a man charged with murdering a prison officer repeatedly breached bail terms, before bail was revoked.

All these defendants are of course innocent unless and until proven otherwise, as are all defendants in all criminal cases – a cornerstone of the British legal system. The legal process must run its course free of any interference.

But the wider debate about bail policy in Northern Ireland is so urgent that it must not be put aside until a later date. There is a review into wider bail issues, but we do not know how it is progressing. In any event, the specific issue of bail policy in serious terror charges needs its own scrutiny. Aside from easing of terms, why is bail granted in the first place?

When the News Letter has reported exhaustively on the bail scandal (we have shown far more interest in it than any other outlet) we have been told of the presumption in favour of bail under the Human Rights Act (HRA), which incorporates the European Convention of Human Rights into UK law.

But this does not explain why courts in Great Britain do not interpret the HRA that way in cases involving terror charges.

There are also questions about lenient sentences in cases in which people are convicted of grave dissident offences.

The most important right of all is the right to life and western democracies have hitherto treated bail and sentencing accordingly in serious terror cases. We need to know why this seems not to be the approach in Northern Ireland.

Prosecutors failed to object to relaxing bail in terror case