David Davis asks the attorney general to explain use of ‘On-the-Run’ letters in stayed Downey case


As reported by Press Association Mediapoint:
Parliamentary News

Conservative David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden), a former shadow home secretary, told Mr Grieve: “This country prides itself on its government operating solely under the rule of law so I hope you will forgive a layman’s question about the law in this case.

“You describe it as an administrative system but under what law is this administrative system created that a judge, a well-respected judge in this country, accepted that this letter should in effect give this man an amnesty.

“Whether you describe it in those terms or not, that will be the way it’ll be seen both in this country, including Northern Ireland, and abroad.

“So under what law is this constituted and can you give the House an absolute assurance that you are sure the criteria you laid down, the administrative ones, have actually been followed in all cases?”
Mr Grieve said he had no reason to fault the judgment in the Downey case and said the administrative process for the letters was lawful.

He added: “It’s quite clear from this incidence that something went very badly wrong. Whether it went badly wrong in other incidences is not a matter which at the moment I can help the House about.”

Labour former Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain insisted it should not have been a surprise that 200 or so people were dealt with by way of letters of assurance as part of efforts to help Northern Ireland escape its “hideous past of evil and terrorism”.

He welcomed Mr Grieve’s view that the process of sending out the letters was lawful.

Mr Hain continued to the Attorney General: “The fact of the matter is that the 200 or so individuals which this process was designed to address, (the situation) was an anomaly.

“In order to achieve and lock in the peace process following the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, 400 prisoners were released some of whom had committed terrible atrocities.

“But, and it was angering victims at the time and I understand that, it was an essential part of getting to where we are now.

“Similarly addressing the question of the 200, that anomaly was part of that as well.

“As for the idea that this was some secret thing out of the blue, on January 11, 2006 I told the House in withdrawing the legislative approach to addressing this anomaly that ‘the government still believes that the anomaly would have to be faced at some stage’ in the peace process.

“Nobody should have been surprised that we had to do this. It was a necessary part of getting to the position where Northern Ireland escaped from its hideous past of evil and terrorism to almost universal peace and stability where old enemies are negotiating and governing together.

“That should be welcomed and our role as a government in achieving that should be commended and I hope you will do so.”

Mr Grieve replied: “I would simply say there is a distinction, and I think it’s an important one, between releasing prisoners under an exercise of the prerogative of mercy as part of a peace settlement and any suggestion of an amnesty.

“These two things are rather different and as you know there was no such amnesty. And indeed any suggestion that we might move towards an amnesty was firmly rejected by widespread views expressed in Parliament and by the Government, and the Government accepted it.

“So for those reasons we have a system where you then say you did explain to the House, and you certainly did, that we look at other methods.

“I think it’s best for you to explain as to what publicity or otherwise this may have attracted. But you are quite right, that the system of giving an assurance to an individual that they are not wanted because they are indeed not wanted and there is no current basis for wanting them is not an unlawful process to engage in.”