Court upholds convicted men's rights

 

Paramilitary suspects can no longer be charged with failing to account for their movements at specified times, following a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights.

The court found sections of the Offences Against the State Act compromised suspects' rights to a fair trial and to the presumption of innocence, and contravened the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Strasbourg court told the State it should pay £4,000 damages to Anthony Heaney, William McGuinness and Paul Quinn, who were each sentenced to six months in prison for failing to account for their movements during specified periods.

The three applicants were awarded £4,000 each in damages and costs totalling £20,700.

The judgment is likely to be incorporated into the review of the Offences Against the State Act at present taking place under the terms of the Belfast Agreement.

The report of the committee reviewing it, under the chairmanship of Mr Justice Hederman, is expected to be ready for the Minister for Justice early next year.

Two separate cases had been brought to the court, that of Paul Quinn, arrested following the murder of Garda Jerry McCabe during a robbery in Adare in 1996, and that of Anthony Heaney and William McGuinness, arrested in connection with a bombing in Co Derry in 1990.

Heaney and McGuinness were charged with membership of the IRA and failure to give an account of their movements, while Quinn was only charged with failing to give an account of his movements.

He denied any involvement in the Adare robbery, and was not charged in connection with it.

Heaney and McGuinness were acquitted of IRA membership and convicted of failing to give an account of their movements.

Quinn was also convicted of this offence. All three were sentenced to six months in prison, which they served.

Heaney and McGuinness unsuccessfully challenged this section of the Act in the High Court and the Supreme Court before going to the European Court of Human Rights. Quinn's case, which was based on essentially the same points, went straight to Strasbourg.

The judgment has been welcomed by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, which appealed to the Hederman committee to produce a report which "adopts fully the clearly expressed views of international bodies".