Wednesday 13 November 2019

Judges reject claim from prominent Irish republican that his detention under UK terror laws breached his human rights

The European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights

European judges have rejected a claim from a prominent Northern Ireland republican that his detention under UK terror laws breached his human rights.

Colin Duffy was held for 12 days after he was arrested on suspicion of involvement in the murder of two soldiers in 2009.

He was one of three people to complain to the European Court of Human Rights that their detention under the UK's Terrorism Act was incompatible with rules governing lawful arrest and detention under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Their claims relied on an article covering the right to liberty and security, specifically the entitlement to trial within a reasonable time or release pending trial.

In a ruling today, judges at the Strasbourg court ruled that Duffy's application was inadmissible.

Mr Duffy, who was later acquitted of all charges, was joined in the legal action by Gabriel Magee and Teresa Magee, who were arrested in 2009 in connection with the killing of a police officer.

Mr Magee and Ms Magee were also held for 12 days before being released. No charges were brought against them.

Part of their complaint was brought under the same section of the Convention as Mr Duffy, but it was rejected by judges who ruled no violation had taken place.

Mr Magee and Ms Magee also complained under another section of the same article covering the right to be informed of the reasons for arrest - but this was declared inadmissible.

Duffy, of Lurgan, Co Armagh, was acquitted in 2012 of all charges connected to the deaths of two soldiers at Massereene Army barracks in Antrim in 2009.

The UK Government argued that Mr Duffy's application was submitted outside a six-month time limit. He maintained that a letter was sent to the court before the limit expired.

But the judgment published today said the court is "not empowered to entertain (Mr Duffy's) complaints as they have been lodged out of time".

In relation to the claims submitted by Mr and Ms Magee, of Belfast and Craigavon respectively, the court agreed with the Government's submission that their complaints under the section of Article 5 covering the right to be informed of the reasons for arrest were "manifestly ill-founded" and declared this part of their complaint inadmissible.

The Government made a similar argument in relation to the pair's claim that their rights covering the entitlement to a trial within a reasonable time or release pending trial were infringed.

The court declined to reject this part of Mr Magee and Ms Magee's case, saying it raises "complex issues of fact".

But the judges concluded that there had been no violation, saying: "In the present case, the applicants were detained for 12 days, which was a relatively short period of time.

"As such, the court considers that they were at all times in 'the early stages' of the deprivation of liberty, when their detention could be justified by the existence of a reasonable suspicion that they had committed a criminal offence; it was not, therefore, necessary that any consideration be given to their conditional release during this period."

In any case, they said, there were a "number of safeguards" in place to protect the applicants against "arbitrary" detention.

These included a limit on extended detention and an overall limit of 28 days, as well as the possibility to challenge their continuing detention by judicial review, the judges said.

They added: "In light of the factors set out above, the court does not consider that the absence of a possibility of conditional release during the period of the applicants' deprivation of liberty gave rise to any issues."

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