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Northern Ireland written question – answered on 11th December 2001.

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Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes Labour, North East Derbyshire

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland by what process suspected terrorists who are wanted for alleged crimes are having prosecutions against them stopped; and if he will list their names, giving in each case the details of the charges that are being dropped and the known paramilitary affiliations.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

Decisions on ending prosecutions are a matter for the independent prosecuting authorities based on a strict application of evidential and public interest tests. Separately, in relation to terrorist prisoners on the run, the Government announced in September 2000 that they were dropping extraditions against those who would have had little or no time left to serve if they returned to Northern Ireland. This has no bearing on cases where there remains an outstanding need to prosecute but relates specifically to cases where the individual concerned has escaped from custody before the completion of their sentence. The Government have dealt with these individuals in a way that is consistent with the Sentences Act 1998, which provides for the accelerated release of prisoners. For the most part this has meant allowing the individuals back into the jurisdiction in order to allow them to make an application for early release to the Sentence Review Commissioners. In a handful of cases, individuals had served the same or longer periods in custody than those already released under the Sentences Act but fell outside the strict application of that legislation, either because time in custody had been served outside Northern Ireland or because their offences had not been scheduled at the time they were committed. In these cases the Secretary of State uses his powers under the Northern Ireland Prison Act 1953 to release life sentence prisoners on licence or to recommend use of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy to remit outstanding portions of determinate sentences.

To date these arrangements have been made in 19 cases. This arrangements does not represent an amnesty. The actions taken by the Government involve decisions on whether these individuals should be allowed to return to Northern Ireland without serving further time in custody because they have met the principles of the early release scheme. The early release scheme is an integral part of the Good Friday Agreement.

Following the proposal made at the Weston Park talks, the Government have agreed to such steps as are necessary as soon as possible, and in any event by March 2002, to resolve the issue about supporters of organisations now on cease-fire against whom there are outstanding prosecutions, and in some cases extradition proceedings, for offences committed before 10 April 1998, who would, if convicted, stand to benefit from the early release scheme. We are currently considering the options for delivering this.

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