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Last Updated: Friday, 16 December 2005, 11:51 GMT
OTR's law 'raises serious issues'
IRA gunmen
People suspected of being involved in terrorism could return
The controversial paramilitary 'on-the-runs' legislation is incompatible with international human rights, an NI watchdog has said.

The Bill raises questions over investigations of rights abuses, the NI Human Rights Commission has said.

The position and rights of victims, the right to fair trial and freedom from arbitrariness of the criminal justice system were all in question, it said.

The legislative plan covers up to 150 people wanted for pre-1998 NI crimes.

The commission expressed "serious concerns" about the independence of the process from the government and the "excessive powers" of the secretary of state.

This was particularly in relation to disclosure of information and evidence, it said.

Chief Commissioner Professor Monica McWilliams said her organisation was "concerned with the lack of clarity in relation to the rights of victims and their involvement in the process" as proposed in the Bill.

Professor Monica McWilliams
The commission regards the Bill in its current form as incompatible with the state's obligations under international human rights standards

"The commission does not consider that the limited provisions of the Bill establishing a requirement of liaison with victims are sufficient to address their concerns," she said.

"We look forward to hearing from the minister (David Hanson) on how he hopes to address these concerns.

"However, the commission regards the Bill in its current form as incompatible with the state's obligations under international human rights standards."

On Thursday, DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson said the government was considering changes to the legislation.

It was reassessing the clause absolving applicants from appearing in person before a tribunal, said the MP.

Special tribunal

Those covered under the legislation would have their cases heard by a special tribunal, and if found guilty, would be freed on licence without having to go to jail.

The proposed law would set up a two-stage process. First a "certification officer" would decide if someone was eligible for the scheme.

This could be a paramilitary on-the-run, someone living in Northern Ireland who is charged with an offence before 1998 or a member of the security forces accused of an offence committed when they were combating terrorism.

The case would then go to a special tribunal, consisting of a retired judge sitting without a jury.

The tribunal would have all the normal powers of the Crown Court, but the proposed legislation as it stands says the accused would not have to appear for their trial.

If found guilty they would have a criminal record but would be freed on licence. They would have to provide fingerprints and DNA samples to be granted their licence.

Licence plan for fugitive cases
09 Nov 05 |  Northern Ireland
'Fugitive law repugnant' say victims
09 Nov 05 |  Northern Ireland
Blair faces 'bumpy ride' over fugitive plan
09 Nov 05 |  Northern Ireland
Blair defends 'on-the-runs' plan
07 Nov 05 |  Northern Ireland

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