Royal prerogative of mercy: Over 350 issued in Northern Ireland

Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers said there was no figures for royal pardons in Northern Ireland between 1987 and 1997

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More than 350 royal prerogatives of mercy have been issued in Northern Ireland over the past 35 years, it has been revealed.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers disclosed that 365 royal pardons had been issued between 1979 and 2002.

The figures was given in an answer to a question from MP Kate Hoey.

There are no figures for ten years between 1987 and 1997, as the records have apparently been lost.

It is not clear how many of those pardoned were members of paramilitary groups, or what proportion, if any, were members of the security forces.

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) said the vast majority of pardons were not terrorism related.

Inquiry

A spokeswoman said: "Examples of the offences for which the RPM (royal prerogative of mercy) was used included driving offences, assault, burglary, theft and non-payment of national insurance contributions."

She added: "On the records for 1987 to 1998, we are conducting an urgent search of the historical records and correspondence relating to RPMs during this period."

The Royal Prerogative of Mercy, commonly known as a royal pardon, allows changes in sentences without the backing of, or consultation with, Parliament.

First Minister Peter Robinson has called for the issue of royal pardons to be included in the judge-led inquiry into the On The Runs controversy.

On The Runs is the term used to refer to people who are suspected of, but who have not been charged or convicted of paramilitary offences during the Troubles.

Lady Justice Hallett has been appointed to head up the inquiry into the issuing of about 200 letters to republican paramilitary suspects.

Transparency

Speaking about the disclosure of royal pardons issued in Northern Ireland, Miss Hoey said she was "astonished".

"I'm astonished first of all at the numbers involved, but also at the fact that the government seems to have lost 10 years of records for something that is a hugely important thing," she said.

"The Queen presumably signs these, so how can they lose them?

"We want to know how many more were issued and, more importantly, who they were issued to and why they were given a pardon.

"This is something the public need to know. We want transparency and honesty and this is neither honest or transparent."

Miss Hoey also questioned why the pardons were not publicly recorded, as is the practice in Great Britain.

Questions

"In England, when someone gets a royal pardon it traditionally has appeared in the London Gazette.

"There is also a Belfast Gazette, where one would have assumed the names would have appeared.

"That has not happened and when I asked those questions, the Secretary of State appears to be saying that it is not normal procedure in Northern Ireland.

"This is wrong because at that time policing and justice were not devolved to Northern Ireland so, again, there are a lot more questions to be asked."

A spokeswoman for the NIO said the RPM had been used 347 times between 1979 and 1986, at a time when "the UK government would have been responsible for all policing and criminal justice issues in Northern Ireland".

She added: "It is also important to highlight that the RPM was used much more frequently prior to the establishment of the Criminal Cases Review Commission in 1997, which now creates a route by which potential miscarriages of justice can be considered.

"It is for those members of the previous government responsible at the time to explain how and in what circumstances they used the RPM.

"No RPM have been issued since the current government came to power in May 2010."

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