21 April 2006

Bomb-plot suspects challenge lack of assurances


20/04/2006 - 19:29:38

Three men being held over a suspected terrorism bomb-making plot tonight won the right to challenge police refusal to give assurances that their conversations with solicitors were not being secretly taped.

They were granted leave to apply for a judicial review at the Northern Ireland High Court after their case was initially rejected.

The men, among four arrested by police who seized 250 pounds of home-made explosives during a raid on a breakers yard in Lurgan, Co Armagh, on Wednesday, were taken to the Serious Crime Suite in Antrim.

But after a solicitor was covertly recorded during meetings with loyalist paramilitary suspects at the same anti-terrorist holding centre, the men’s legal representatives wanted guarantees that the same tactics were not being used.

No assurances were given and, with the men able to be held for up to seven days under the Terrorism Act, the High Court in Belfast sat until 2am today as lawyers lodged their first judicial review application.

Following the refusal of Mr Justice Higgins, the men’s QC, Barry Macdonald, told an appeal hearing before two other judges that the situation was both unfair and unreasonable.

He said: “The failure to provide such an assurance or undertaking is contrary to the Terrorism Act and incompatible with the applicants’ rights under Article Six of the European Convention.”

Mr Macdonald also alluded to the case of Manmohan Sandhu, a County Derry solicitor who denies charges of attempting to incite a murder and perverting the course of justice.

He was accused in February after conversations with his clients were secretly recorded at Antrim.

“It’s a matter of public knowledge that client consultations at this particular police station where the applicants are being detained have previously been the subject of covert surveillance,” Mr Macdonald said.

A court was told that when the men’s solicitor, James Glynn, sought guarantees, a custody sergeant handed him a piece of paper with a typed statement which read: “It’s not our policy to discuss confidential matters and no inference should be drawn from this.”

That drew a derisory assessment from Mr Justice Weir, one of the judges sitting on the appeal hearing.

“The piece of paper handed out by police was a masterpiece of non-statement,” he said.

The authority to tape suspects’ conversations without their knowledge can be granted under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 once an application has been made to a High Court judge.

Gerald Simpson QC, for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, argued that if the application succeeded then the legislation could be rendered meaningless.

“The right of a solicitor or client cannot stand before the right of police investigating a crime,” he insisted.

After a three-hour hearing, Mr Justice Weir and his colleague Mr Justice Gillen concluded that the applicants had an arguable case.

Although they granted leave, with the case to be heard again on Monday, they refused a request by Mr Macdonald to suspend police interviews with the suspects until the outcome of the review.

Mr Justice Gillen said: “It’s our view that the extent to which these applicants answer questions in the course of their interviews in light of any advice their solicitor considers proper to give is a matter entirely for these applicants.”

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