The Maguire Seven Case
I am concerned with proper respect for leading Counsel for the Crown so vital to the conduct of our serious criminal cases. Likewise the Senior Judges trying these cases and hearing any Appeals should be accorded due respect. This respect is built on the bond: Senior Counsel to trial Judge in its essence. That way the minds of the Senior Judges I write of will work out the most just summing up and Appellate decision making – always assisted assiduously by these Queen’s Counsel.
1. a) The Start
This terrorists’ explosives possession only case was tried in early 1976 and all the seven accused were said to be Irish Republican sympathisers. The case was tried at the Old Bailey. The connected Guildford Four bombings case was tried before in late 1975. Leading Counsel for the Crown in both cases was Sir Michael Havers QC MP. The Guildford Four case was also tried at the Central Criminal Court. The Hon. Mr Justice Donaldson (later Master of the Rolls) presided at both these contested trials. All the accused in both trials were convicted as charged and indicted.
Certain internet comments probably inaccurate and partisan from supporters of the accused, (the Seven and the Guildford Four) have muddied the waters. In deference to Gerry Conlon and Carole Richardson, both of whom were in the Guildford Four accused trial as Defendants and have died fairly recently, this idle repartee should cease. Moreover Gerry Conlon’s father: Giuseppe died in January 1980 still in prison (of the Maguire Seven) and here again respect for the dead demands silence. I am not interested in rancorous accusation. My concern is with analysing the Maguire Seven case, not evidentially, but morally in terms of the procedure, the main parties, the Counsel and lawyers with the Judges.
Fresh accusations of guilt against the Maguire Seven or the Guildford Four don’t appear on the main internet website which I have observed. Clearly in the course of unsuccessful Appeals for these two terrorist cases in the 1970’s and 1980’s certain Appellate Judges and Crown Counsel may have made adverse comments. These comments would have been protected by absolute privilege. I do not deny I have over the past two years written material accusatory of the Guildford Four in particular, which is the seminal case of all these Irish nationalist Republican bombings trials said to be English miscarriages. My essays all go on Kindle Amazon. I am out in the open. I have written freely on this Guildford Four trial, the Birmingham Six case and now the Maguire Seven case. I do not mince my words. All I write is in the interests of veracity a priceless virtue.
1. b) Jesus Before Pilate: What is the Truth?
That was the question Pontius Pilate put to Christ when that Roman Governor of Palestine was about to sentence Jesus Christ to death on the Cross 2000 years ago. We do not know the exact reply of Jesus. Maybe none was proffered by Christ to this open question. I would say Pilate’s pertinent question was just capable of answer in truth. Christ had said to His inquisitor, namely Pilate:“I came into this world to speak the truth and let all on the side of the truth listen to my voice”
Thus He made a case to Pontius Pilate His Judge to know the meaning of the truth. That is the eternal message of this exchange between Christ and this Roman Governor. I admit I am no voice from Heaven, but I do say to my readers judge me by the yardstick of this religious and moral message as an essayist.
2. The English & Welsh Criminal Courts
These Courts are not primarily concerned with this abstract concept: “the truth”, but with whether the Crown can prove a Defendant is guilty by the legal rules of procedure and evidence of certain crimes as alleged in specific counts on the Indictment – no more and no less. The matter is clear cut and not technical. The same applies with different Rules and procedure in our Civil Courts. I argue undoubtedly these Maguire Seven were convicted according to law. The quashed convictions for the Guildford Four came in 1989 and for the Maguire Seven in 1991, (17 years after trial convictions for the Seven).
The Appellate and trial Judges with trial Counsel and the Director do not err – they know their law and facts and the obligation of fairness. The Seven were perfectly properly convicted and their Appeals refused for years according to the evidence adduced at trial and by the proper procedure at trial and on Appeal. These were hard won convictions resulting in lengthy sentences. They were also well constructed convictions with no manner of defect visible to the Senior Appeal Judges before 1990.
There was reliable evidence of explosives being handled given in the Maguire Seven trial. If no, the trial Judge would have stopped the case proceeding himself of his own volition. This leading Counsel for the Crown, Sir Michael Havers QC MP knew his duty of impartiality and his facts and the law, and made sure the Maguire Seven case went to the Jury in accordance with good criminal trial practise. He did the same earlier in the Guildford Four Trial. What a miserable day for the spirit of criminal trial advocacy if he had flinched and our future Conservative Attorney-General under Thatcher had effectively fluffed the case of the Maguire Seven.
He was made of sterner stuff, and it would never have entered his mind to fall short of the mark once he had decided to accept the brief from the Labour government Attorney-General to prosecute these Seven. For Sir Michael not to put his full professional expertise and superb legal acumen into this Maguire Seven case would have been tantamount to desertion in the face of the enemy. Let me make it clear, Sir Michael Havers QC MP was the very opposite of the sort of character who deserts. It is character that matters at the criminal Bar. That is why the Seven were truly and properly found guilty. Sir Michael is the test of that.
Yes the matter will have to lie with these convictions properly arrived at by the Rules – Sir Michael made sure of that. Some of the Seven including Annie Maguire, the central accused, may go public on their story of the case. My personal opinion is unimportant of her individual account. I do have my private reservations, but I will not air factual and fractious evidential issues going back 40 years. I am concerned with the proper administration of Justice now and for it to be correctly understood as administered in the past. If we build on the present we support the past and the present.
The Court of Appeal Criminal Division has quashed the Maguire Seven convictions, every one of them, including Giuseppe Conlon’s. He died before these Seven had their convictions overturned with his own posthumously. That Court has also quashed, as I write, the Guildford Four with the Birmingham Six convictions. That is Justice done as it should be done. These Judges had to step in to restore Law and Order as Judges always do if worth their salt. The lesson is stay loyal to your proper leader and then honesty and sincerity will flow forth. There could be no better leader and Attorney-General in the 20th Century since the War than Sir Michael Havers QC MP.
Although a Conservative lawyer, that is why he was chosen by his political opponent in Wilson’s Labour government to represent the Crown in these two Irish Republican trials: the Guildford Four and Maguire Seven. He was the Senior English QC to be reckoned with in the 1970’s and 1980’s in our realm mark my words. He was Head of my Chambers when I joined them in 1977. Such Counsel are exceptional, but he was first among equals in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The Criminal Bar and its Judiciary were shoulder to shoulder then and still are to this day. Sir Michael in his day bound that cohort of criminal Barristers with that Bench of Judges together with unbreakable cords.
4. Epilogue – The May Inquiry post-1991
This Inquiry headed by a retired High Court Judge – Sir Peter May – looked into the Maguire Seven and Guildford Four cases, in particular to ascertain the true facts. The Inquiry’s finding discredited the Crown case against the accused in both these trials. I claim no intricate knowledge of these findings. I do say the three interrogating police officers of some of the Guildford Four were then prosecuted for perjury for allegedly tampering with the contemporaneous interview notes of these accused: suspects when interviewed by the police. What happened? The case never reached the Jury – the case ended with no evidence offered by the Crown Counsel at the Central Criminal Court and no Jury empanelled.
What is my view of this Inquiry set up by our Executive under Sir John Major’s Administration? Every Defence and Crown Counsel in the criminal courts in my day knew the fundamental rule of cross-examination: Once you had ended your questioning of the witness or defendant you sit down and you may not under any circumstances get to your feet again to ask further questions. That was the invariable Rule of Practice and may it be observed to this day. Our political rulers should remember it as well. The moral is clear: let the trial Judge and Jury decide the case once and for all.