Sunday Life

Compensation denied

10 October 2004

A leading republican, who fought a lengthy legal battle to overturn a conviction on bomb charges, has lost his claim for compensation.

Belfastman, Gerard Magee, who was jailed for 20 years, but whose conviction was later overturned, applied to then Secretary of State, John Reid, in June 2002, for compensation awarded to people who have been jailed following a wrongful conviction.

But when his application was dismissed by Reid's successor, Paul Murphy, in December 2002, Magee sought leave to apply for a judicial review of the decision.

A High Court judge last month threw Magee's case out, insisting that he had failed to establish that the decision of the Secretary of State was wrong in law.

Magee was jailed for 20 years in 1990, after admitting being part of a plot to murder soldiers living in an Antrim housing estate.

His conviction was secured on the strength of the confession he gave during interviews, at Castlereagh Holding Centre.

Magee, however, had been denied access to a lawyer, until the day after his confession was obtained.

In 1993, the Court of Appeal upheld the conviction.

But in May 2000, the European Court of Human Rights held that the decision to deny Magee access to a solicitor was a violation of his human rights.

The case was referred back to the Court of Appeal, and the conviction quashed on the grounds that Magee had not received a fair trial, due to the lack of access to a lawyer before he incriminated himself.

Critically, however, the 'unfair trial' had only come about because the 'legal landscape' had been different at the time of the trial - 10 years before Human Rights legislation was enacted in Northern Ireland.

Mr Justice Girvan, sitting in the High Court last month, said that Magee "had not established that he was a victim of a miscarriage of justice, attributable to any failure in the judicial process".

Refusing Magee's call for a judicial review, the judge said that the Secretary of State "was entitled to conclude that the applicant had not been exonerated of the crime".

He added: "He had confessed to the crimes, and the court had justifiably concluded that the confession was not obtained in such circumstances that it should not be treated as voluntary.

"The Secretary of State was entitled to conclude that there had been no judicial error, or misconduct, giving rise to exceptional circumstances.

"Indeed, the trial judge was bound to apply domestic laws (as) then stood, and reached a decision which was entirely consistent with domestic law."

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