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  • 203. The Northern Ireland Troubles (1969-2000) and The Non-Imposition of a Death Penatly Regime

The Northern Ireland Troubles (1969-2000) and The Non-Imposition of a Death Penatly Regime

  • Category(s): Death Penalty Essays
  • Created on : 18 June 2015
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  • Author: Richard Michael Lamb


The lesson is always work through the Courts of Criminal Jurisdiction and may our Law Officers maintain the Rule of Law in those Courts by their visible profile. The other limb is put all necessary measures in place for the storm when it brews up as it most definitely will.

1. Introduction

2000 lives – security personnel and civilians – were lost (unlawfully killed) in this province of ours namely Northern Ireland during this period. The Judge alone Diplock Courts were set up quickly to try terrorist crimes. A Judge would sit without a Jury in these Courts. Internment on the say so of a British Army Officer and approval of a Circuit Judge to intern Provisional IRA sympathisers and supporters was tried then discarded in the 1970’s.

What was the net result? Despite these measures this terrible loss of life, mainly occasioned by Irish Nationalist terrorists, continued apace. The mainland Sunningdale peace talks in Heath’s premiership (1970-74) with the IRA spokesmen for the Provisionals could not staunch the flow of innocent blood. The British Army committed several regiments at a time by rotation to keep law and order. At any one time our Army had considerable forces deployed in Northern Ireland, particularly in Belfast and Londonderry and in County Armagh (Crossmaglen) known as bandit country. Many murders went unsolved. Our Army had to not only support the R.U.C. (the Royal Ulster Constabulary), but take over their policing duties on many occasions.

2. Justice

Anyone concerned in the administration of justice was under threat to life and limb from Republican Irish Terrorists in Northern Ireland and the mainland at the height of these troubles: A Northern Ireland Appeal Court Judge was blown up and killed at a border crossing to Eire. Our own Attorney-General and Northern Ireland’s under Margaret Thatcher: Sir Michael Havers QC had his home bombed in South West London during the Troubles: fortunately no one was at home. He faced a severe level of attack by these terrorists when being driven around Northern Ireland as its Attorney-General, I am reliably told, during Thatcher’s government.

3. The Picture Across Northern Ireland in the Troubles

Nationalist Republican violence directed to the British armed forces was the root cause of these Troubles. There would have been no Troubles without this provisional IRA and its splinter groups and their activities in Northern Ireland. The loyalist groups were disparate and lacked direction. Yes, they did cause loss of life by atrocities north and south of the border. Clearly all paramilitaries: Rebulican and Loyalist would be equally at risk of the discretionary death sentence for terrorist murders, if restored, in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. These terrorist on both sides of the sectarian divide tested us to the limit, but we held firm. Yet the loss of life in peacetime was unacceptable in Northern Ireland.

4. a) Behind the Scenes

Why was the discretionary death sentence not restored in Northern Ireland at some stage during the Troubles for flagrant terrorist murders? These were frequent during the Troubles. Thatcher’s government (1979-89) was capable of this restoration under direct rule of Northern Ireland from London. Heath, Wilson and Callaghan would have none of it. Sir Michael Havers QC, Attorney-General to Thatcher, was in favour of reinstatement I believe as was Thatcher herself. The Diplock Court Judges in Northern Ireland would have followed her lead and that of Sir Michael Havers QC. The Crisis in Northern Ireland was truly grave.

A senior barrister: Airey Neave VC. MP, a close confidant of Mrs Thatcher, was fatally injured by a bomb in his vehicle in the House of Commons car park. The group responsible were an Irish Republican splinter force. This bomb was in 1979 before the election in that year when Thatcher came to power. I verily believe that on the back of that explosion, her Attorney’s support and the terrible news daily from Northern Ireland, Margaret Thatcher may have short circuited the Commons and imposed the discretionary Death Sentence for terrorist murderers under the direct rule powers of Whitehall through the Northern Ireland office for that region alone. She would have been so empowered and I very much doubt she would have lost a no confidence motion on the issue. It did not require a Commons vote to enact. She had an overall majority from the 1979 May election. She did not lack the audacity required for this policy if she had decided to put it into effect.

4. b) Special Forces

We relied on these officers and troops to “take out” selected Irish Republican terrorists when caught in the act or very close to it. e.g. The Gibraltar Three and the six terrorists laying a bomb by a JCB outside a Northern Ireland rural police station. All were shot and killed by our Special Forces at the crime scene or close to it. It appears in the absence of the Death Penalty this liquidation method was preferred to arrest, charge, trial and limited imprisonment terms. Such an outcome left the terrorists alive to re-offend on release and the Special Forces performed the role of the “Death Sentence”. I argue the senior military commanders of these Special Forces leapfrogged the Diplock Courts, effectively taking the law into their hands.

5. Making “Martyrs” of Executed Terrorists

You cannot pander to such thoughts however superficially attractive they may appear. An alleged terrorist in a Capital trial is subject to all the legal safeguards and privileges, including a proper plea in mitigation, if convicted now, as would have been the case in the troubles, if the Judge had a discretionary death sentence at his disposal. I stand for trial for murder and related offences by Judge alone now as was the case in the Troubles.

Do we believe in the High Courts in London and Belfast? I answer unequivocally in the affirmative then and now. These High Courts had suffered a massive truncation of their powers by the abolition of Capital Punishment in 1968 in Westminster. The Irish Republican lobby scare tactics that violence would erupt if the Death Sentence was reinstated in Northern Ireland during the Troubles was unfounded. Many would have feared detection and stayed clear of the “Provos” and their activities on account of the death Sentence. The hardcore would remain undeterred, but the Belfast Diplock Court Judges would wisely have used the discretionary Death Penalty sparingly for terrorists guilty of murders. The effect on waverers would be to the maximum, therefore.

The violence in the Troubles was remorseless, repeated and merciless, but there would be no “martyrs”. Only the die-hards and the hard-bitten with no hope of redemption would be in the pool to choose from for sentencing to death. Several in this pool even would be spared, but several would be given the discretionary sentence of death and executed. Every Northern Irishman would have recognised the humanity of this discretionary Death Penalty regime as administered by the Belfast High Court judiciary if we had restored it. The Provos peddled their “martyrs” propaganda off the 1916 Dublin Easter Rising and the Irish patriots put to death then. They were wrong. In 1916 we were fighting a World War to the death unlike in the Troubles. Moreover, many Northern Irish terrorists would be spared the Death sentence if it had been part of that rule of law.

6. Thou Shalt Not Kill

Let us never forget those who take the lives of others are at risk of paying the price of losing their own lives by judicial execution, namely hanging in England and Northern Ireland. Any life taken deliberately, intentionally and unlawfully (be it civilian, military or a police officer) gives rise to this rule for the culprit and this rule will never alter the world over. I speak of Natural Law and God’s Law of Moses:

“Thou Shalt Not Kill.”

Thus the convicted terrorist murderer, whether for the full offence or as an accomplice, with his out of court entourage, could not have complained if the Judge in Northern Ireland had imposed the ultimate penalty upon him, always presuming the Death sentence was available to the Judge. The terrorist commits murder or conspiracy to murder or proximate acts to murder. The sentencing Judge upholds innocent life and the law. He acts as the law insists and demands.

Let there be no muddled thinking. The terrorist guilty of a capital offence of murder destroys life and pulverises our Rule of Law. It is our Courts alone who do justice in England and Northern Ireland. No one should usurp their judicial functions and encroach upon our jurisdiction then and now. It is also grossly untrue to say or write that any English Judge who has passed sentence of death in decades gone by has ordered the condemned man to be “killed”. I argue such a statement is a serious contempt of Court to this very day actionable at the behest of our Attorney-General if he sees fit.

7. Conclusion

The crunch has come for our Country. Do we wait for the next wave of terror to engulf us, or do we put our defences in place beforehand by restoring the discretionary death sentence for terrorist murder in England & Wales now as I submit? This is the lesson of the Northern Irish Troubles (1969-2000) for England. May we learn that lesson by heart. If we wait we will rue our foolishness and missed chance. We were not prepared for these troubles when they struck us in 1969, as we had removed previously the Death Sentence from our Judges powers in Northern Ireland. Let us not make that mistake again on the mainland.

8. Postscript

In Northern Ireland the autonomous Assembly at Stormont and the Northern Irish independent Judiciary make re-integration into England & Wales very unlikely. Ulster is out on its own and I would be very surprised if its Assembly brought back Capital Punishment for murder. The mainland is where the threat lies, always potential, and likely to go imminent as our English & Welsh police know so well.

Thank God for their vigilance on our behalf even if Republican Irish violence has subsided.