Page last updated at 16:54 GMT, Thursday, 1 March 2012

Justice Committee

The Justice Minister told MLAs he saw no need for changes to the law in the light of the outcome of the Tommy English murder trial, on 1 March 2012.

Twelve men were acquitted, nine charged with the murder of the UDA leader in 2000.

The prosecution evidence rested heavily on the evidence of two brothers, David and Robert Stewart, who admitted aiding and abetting in the murder.

Mr Ford said he recognised that there was little enthusiasm for "accomplice evidence"

Defending the decision to prosecute, the minister said the Stewart brothers had been interviewed 330 times by the police.

He explained that the practice had existed in common law back to the 17th century, but was formalised into legislation in the 1990s.

Referring specifically to the Tommy English trial, the minister drew attention to comments made by Mr Justice Gillen in his judgement.

"I do not see an immediate need to change the underpinning legislation," Mr Ford said.

The minister said the legislation had been successfully used by the Crown in Northern Ireland to obtain convictions.

He said he knew from the police that "this trial was part of a much wider investigation into crimes committed by the UVF in north Belfast.

Sinn Fein's Raymond McCartney raised questions about the position of the judiciary.

"Does independence mean you're beyond criticism?," he asked.

Mr McCartney saw a need for legislation on accomplice evidence.

He said there was "an inducement to lie".

The Foyle MLA said there was a fear that "informers are being protected".

Basil McCrea of the UUP was concerned about how much comment committee members were allowed to make about decisions made by the judiciary.

Raymond McCartney called on the minister to review the law and put new legislation through the assembly.

"People could say the legislation for interment without trial worked, but in terms of public confidence it didn't," he said.

The committee also heard a briefing from the Attorney General, John Larkin, on judicial appointments.

Justice committee membership


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