02 February 2006

Axe Diplock by end of year: SDLP

Belfast Telegraph

**Via Newshound

Courts call as terror cases halve

By Michael McHugh
01 February 2006

The number of court cases heard involving alleged paramilitaries has almost halved since the Good Friday Agreement was signed, prompting new demands for an end to the Diplock courts.

A total of 90 cases were dealt with in 2005, down from 177 in 1998 when the Belfast Agreement was signed.

The SDLP is now pressing for the non-jury system, set up in the 1970s, to be terminated by the end of the year. Security spokesman Alex Attwood said it has outlived its purpose.

"In the 1970s there were hundreds of people being put through the courts, so there's been a dramatic shift from what we had 10 or 20 years ago," he said.

"It is very positive and encouraging. The time has now come when the Diplock courts should be closed down and a date for that should now be set.

"In a lot of cases they have measures protecting witnesses and sometimes they are difficult to accept because they include people having their identity withheld or not appearing in court."

A new court system to give protection to juries is being planned for when the non-jury Diplock courts are scrapped.

Non-jury courts will be extended to 2007, with an option on a continuation to 2008.

The Conservative Party has called for the powers to be extended to 2012, arguing that the Government is working to an unrealistic peace deadline.

The figures were obtained by House of Lords peer Lord Hylton, who said progress was encouraging.

"They seem to have been decreasing but not quickly enough, in an ideal world. Whenever possible, cases should be heard by a jury but it won't be possible in all cases," he said.

"I know they have the security services going after people who have made money out of a variety of criminal activities and perhaps this means the figures may also go up."

Fred Cobain from the UUP believes ordinary courts are capable of dealing with criminality which some paramilitaries have engaged in.

"The reason why the cases are falling is that paramilitary activity is falling and the police are dealing with a lot of this through judge and jury courts," he said.

"This involves money laundering and drugs and people now have more confidence in the police and the courts. Diplock courts need to go away as quickly as possible."

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