Northern Ireland

Sammy Wilson criticises use of public money in Peter Hain case

Peter Hain on the Andrew Marr show
Image caption Peter Hain faces contempt of court proceedings over his memoir

Finance minister Sammy Wilson has criticised the attorney general over his decision to take contempt of court proceedings against the former Secretary of State Peter Hain.

The action by John Larkin follows remarks Mr Hain made about a High Court judge in his memoirs.

Mr Wilson said it was wrong that public money was being used to take the case.

On Thursday, more than 120 MPs signed a motion in the House of Commons criticising Mr Larkin.

Mr Wilson said Mr Larkin should reflect on his action.

"If someone libelled you or me or any other member of the public, the expectation would be that if we felt so aggrieved we would risk our own private money in taking the matter to court," he said.

"Now why should a judge be treated any differently than you or I, or the public would be treated?

"But that's not what's happening in this case, public money is being used to take this action and a public office is being used as the vehicle for taking this action and I think that is wrong."

It is the first time there has been public criticism from a member of the executive which appointed Mr Larkin two years ago.

On Thursday, the Conservative backbencher David Davies called for the proceedings against Mr Hain to be dropped.

It has been backed by senior political figures including David Blunkett, Alistair Darling and Charles Kennedy.

Mr Larkin has been granted leave to prosecute Mr Hain and the publishers of his memories, over claims that a passage in the book "undermines the administration of justice".

The passage referred to Lord Justice Girvan's handling of a case which examined Mr Hain's appointment of a Northern Ireland Victims Commissioner.

In October 2005, Mr Hain announced that Bertha McDougall, the widow of a police reservist who had been shot dead by republican paramilitaries, had been given the job.

But Mrs McDougall's appointment was later challenged in court on grounds that she did not command cross-community support.

The case is due to be mentioned at the High Court on Tuesday but no date has been set for a full hearing.

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