04 December 2005

Face-to-face with justice

Sunday Life

By Alan Murray
04 December 2005

A SENIOR SDLP politician - who has accused the courts of being too lenient with loyalist terrorists - is to take up an offer to meet the Lord Chief Justice.

John Dallat says he also wants to ask Sir Brian Kerr his view on the legal mechanism proposed by the Government to deal with all 'on-the-run' terrorists.

The East Londonderry MLA has been critical of sentences handed out to loyalists.

Three weeks ago, Sir Brian wrote to Mr Dallat saying: "It would be preferable for you to seek my views on the background to a judicial matter before you comment publicly".

John Dallat had claimed loyalists were regularly given suspended sentences, even if they had massive criminal records.

He said: "That undermines the rule of law. There's no point bringing loyalists to court if they are going to just get away with it".

In his three-page letter, Sir Brian said the judiciary expected criticism to be "properly informed".

He added that the SDLP man's comments had only served to "undermine confidence in the criminal justice system".

John Dallat's initial response to the letter was to claim the LCJ's comments "smacked of censorship".

He said public representatives had a duty to raise important issues on behalf of their constituents when they happened, and not at some distant time in the future.

But yesterday he said he felt it would be useful to meet Sir Brian to discuss a number of matters which were concerning both nationalists and unionists.

He said: "Sir Brian has said it would be preferable for me to hear his views on the background to a number of cases before I make any further comments, and I think I will take him up on that.

"I would also like to ask him how he views this quasi-judicial set-up the Government is envisaging for the so called 'on-the-runs' and whether he would endorse it or even allow some of his judiciary to take part."

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