Daily Ireland

Agencies criticised

Senior Sinn Féin negotiator Gerry Kelly has warned that nationalist concerns about the North of Ireland's criminal justice system are being increased by ongoing controversy involving the PSNI, the Northern Ireland Forensic Science Laboratory (NIFSL) and the Department of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

Mr Kelly issued his hard-hitting warning after meeting the Criminal Justice Services Inspectorate about a range of serious concerns resulting from the collapse of recent high profile court cases.
In a number of these politically sensitive cases, serious questions have been levelled by defence lawyers over the relationship between the PSNI, NIFSL and the DPP.
Among the concerns raised by Mr Kelly are the lack of independent oversight of the DPP by the Criminal Justice Inspectorate and the loss by the NIFSL of certain professional accreditation last year.
Pointing out that the NIFSL is still sited in a PSNI complex, Mr Kelly referred to this as “unacceptable”. He also disclosed that the body lost certain professional accreditation last year and this was only recently reinstated.
“All of this leads to a very serious crisis of confidence in the Forensic Science Agency,” Mr Kelly said.
“Questions at the heart of this forensic controversy must also be asked of the DPP and the PSNI. These three agencies have a relationship which could be described as a Bermuda triangle into which material of relevance to defence solicitors disappears.
“Problems with disclosure, raised in the courts by defence solicitors, have not been eradicated. Indeed, new procedural obstacles are emerging and Sinn Féin has now asked that the Inspectorate probes these problems in much more detail,” he said.
Mr Kelly also questioned the fact that the DPP is outside the remit of independent inspection by the Criminal Justice Inspectorate.
“This is a serious omission. The Inspectorate will only have oversight functions of the new Public Prosecution Service and there is, as yet, no date by which that service will be established.
“In fact, its establishment requires legislation by the British government which has still not been done, five years after the Criminal Justice Review.
“The Oversight Commissioner on Justice, Lord Clyde, raised concerns about this in his latest report. His own remit may expire before the creation of the Public Prosecution Service has been completed. Sinn Féin will be taking these failures up with the British secretary of state,” Mr Kelly said.
Revealing that Sinn Féin has been informed that disclosure mechanisms within the PSNI cannot be independently scrutinised by the Criminal Justice Services Inspectorate, Mr Kelly said, “Grave accusations have been made against the PSNI of wrongdoing in a number of recent court cases which eventually fell apart on unsupportable evidence. Many nationalists believe that the political detectives behind these cases have not been held fully to account.”
“Miscarriages of justice have been the hallmark of the justice system in the six counties. That is why Sinn Féin fought for a new beginning to policing and justice, as envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement.
“There are still serious problems in the justice system. Sinn Féin knows that the concerns expressed are shared by many legal professionals and human rights campaigners.

“The whole community needs a justice system which is democratically accountable and free from partisan political control.”
Gerry Kelly

“This policing and justice system brought us the appalling vista of state murder, through collusion in killings such as Pat Finucane.
“The whole community needs a justice system which is democratically accountable and free from partisan political control. Sinn Féin remains focused on that goal and overcoming the outstanding issues,” Mr Kelly added.
Reacting to Mr Kelly’s statement, a Northern Ireland Office (NIO) spokesperson rejected criticisms of the NIFSL.
“The independence, integrity and high quality of Forensic Science NI has always been recognised by the courts and the wider forensic science community,” the spokesperson said.
“In the summer of 2003, a number of issues were identified concerning the over-arching administrative functions of the system and accreditation was suspended for 'testing'. Calibration accreditation has been retained throughout and FSNI continues to practice and deliver services to a high quality,” the spokesperson added.
The NIO confirmed that testing accreditation was reinstituted in December 2004. A spokesperson for the PSNI responded to Mr Kelly saying, “As we haven’t seen the detail of the cricitism we are not in a position to comment."
Last night, Daily Ireland was unable to contact a spokesperson for the DPP.

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