Socialist Worker

Bringing Northern Irish justice to Britain

Issue No. 1929

ONE OF David Blunkett’s new proposals is for special “terror trials” that involve a judge sitting without a jury. Such jury-free (Diplock) courts have been routinely used in Northern Ireland since the 1970s.

Irish socialist and writer Eamonn McCann spoke to Socialist Worker about the experience of this system in Northern Ireland.

Diplock courts were introduced in August 1971 as an alternative to internment without trial. They led to mayhem—and they are still with us.

The similarities between them and Blunkett’s proposals are absolutely striking. Once the idea was to bring British standards of justice to Northern Ireland. Instead they’re bringing Northern Irish justice to Britain.

The Diplock commission was set up to consider how to deal with people who couldn’t be convicted under normal rules of evidence.

It was a legal scheme for imprisoning people who could not otherwise be imprisoned.

Here we are in 2004 following exactly the same track again. First there’s internment without trial, then trials without jury.

Though the courts were brought in for political categories of offences, they soon expanded. Anything remotely reminiscent of a terrorist offence is now automatically shuffled off into the Diplock courts system.

The result is that year on year people are sent to jail in circumstances where a jury would not have delivered a conviction.

There’s a long history here of abuses of procedure, fake forensics and falsified evidence.

Removing juries lowers the standards of justice for every citizen.

If you take 12 lay people, they might well believe that the police are up to no good, or that prosecutors are corrupt. Judges have different assumptions.

The excuse given for trials without juries was that terrorists might intimidate witnesses. If your case was channelled into a Diplock court you were automatically labelled as a dangerous person.

Anger at the Diplock courts system in Northern Ireland led to the Bloody Sunday march. We’re still dealing with the aftermath of that 30 years later.

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Sat 27 Nov 2004, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1929
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