Thursday 22 February 2018

Judge warning in bail hearings row

Loyalist protesters in East Belfast after a flag protest in Belfast City Centre
Loyalist protesters in East Belfast after a flag protest in Belfast City Centre

Northern Ireland's Lord Chief Justice has stressed the dangers of exerting improper influence on judges in response to a political row over the refusal to grant bail to some Union flag protesters.

Sir Declan Morgan assured Stormont's Justice Committee that all judges are independent and impartial in the decisions they make.

The intervention of the region's senior judge comes after First Minister Peter Robinson raised concerns with the police's chief constable about a perception of bias against loyalists within the justice system.

Mr Robinson sparked controversy after suggesting some Union flag protesters appeared to have been treated differently under the law than some republicans facing criminal investigation.

Last week, prominent loyalists Willie Frazer, 53, from Co Armagh, and Jamie Bryson, 23, from Co Down, were remanded in custody charged with public-order offences connected to the ongoing flag protests.

On Friday, senior republican Sean Hughes, 51, from Co Armagh, was granted bail after appearing in court charged with offences related to the murder of father-of-three Robert McCartney in 2005.

In response to Mr Robinson's claims, Chief Constable Matt Baggott stressed the impartiality of his officers and noted that bail decisions rest with the judiciary while decisions to prosecute are taken by the Public Prosecution Service.

The SDLP has branded Mr Robinson`s stance "outrageous" and "totally unjustified", and has pledged to examine his remarks for a potential breach of Stormont`s ministerial code.

As well as the police's attitude, some members of the DUP have raised concern about the judicial decisions taken in the recent bail hearings.

A representative of the Lord Chief Justice wrote to members of Stormont's Justice Committee to set out his position on the issue.

Press Association

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