Northern Ireland

Court of Appeal quashes convictions but judges will not reveal reasons

Court buildings in Belfast
Image caption The Court of Appeal judges said there had been a "serious irregularity in the trial process rendering the trial unfair and the resultant conviction is unsafe" but the full details of the reasons for their verdict were not revealed

A married couple's convictions for offences linked to the killing of a police informer are to be quashed, but the Court of Appeal will not say why.

James Martin and Veronica Ryan, both from west Belfast, had previously been convicted of the false imprisonment of Special Branch agent Joe Fenton.

Mr Fenton was shot dead after being lured to a house in February 1989.

The judges said they would not reveal the reasons why a confidential dossier rendered the guilty verdicts unsafe.

Amid speculation that the dossier contains material on intelligence agents, their lawyers said the couple had a "right to know" why they had been cleared on appeal.

The couple are now set to go to the Supreme Court to challenge the decision to keep parts of the Appeal Court ruling secret.

Miscarriages of justice

Following the couple's conviction for false imprisonment, Mr Martin, who was also found guilty of making property available for terrorism, was later sentenced to four years imprisonment.

His wife, formerly known as Veronica Martin, was jailed for six months.

Their case was referred back to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which examines potential miscarriages of justice.

It was given access to sensitive material that had not been made available to prosecutors involved in their case, or the trial judge.

In 2012, it emerged that Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory believed the guilty verdicts should be quashed.

But the secretary of state issued a Public Interest Immunity certificate, protecting the confidential dossier.

Delivering the Court of Appeal verdict on Friday, Lord Justice Girvan confirmed that the convictions must be quashed.

Secret documentation

The real issue between the parties, he said, was whether it was in the interests of fairness and justice to provide a fully reasoned judgment on what material was withheld, by whom, and why.

Having studied the secret documentation, Lord Justice Girvan held that divulging the information would undermine the effect of the Public Interest Immunity certificate.

He said: "If, as in this case, it is clear that there has been a serious irregularity in the trial process rendering the trial unfair and the resultant conviction is unsafe, the public interest is secured by this court setting aside the conviction and making clear the ground for setting it aside is because of that irregularity.

"The public interest would be undermined, not advanced, by the disclosure of material covered by the PII certificate which the court has found to be properly issued.

"The right to a fair trial has been secured in these circumstances."

'Intelligence issues'

The couple's solicitor confirmed that they now plan to challenge the non-disclosure in the Supreme Court.

Kevin Winters of KRW Law said: "Although welcome the court's decision to quash the convictions, an acquitted person has the right to know exactly why they have been acquitted.

"Our concern is that there were serious intelligence issues at play, but that should not trump my clients' right to know the reasons.

"They have instructed me to make an application to appeal to the Supreme Court."

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