Northern Ireland

Supreme Court to look at cleared couple's quest for reasons

Supreme Court Image copyright PA

The Supreme Court is to consider whether to examine a married couple's attempt to find out why their conviction for falsely imprisoning a police informer was quashed.

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.

Appeal judges quashed their conviction in October, but would not say why.

Confidential dossier

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

However, senior judges have now certified a legal question for their lawyers to take to the UK's highest court.

Amid speculation that the dossier contains material on intelligence agents, it is believed to be the first challenge of its kind in the UK.

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 in prison.

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

Public interest

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.

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

Last month, the Court of Appeal ruled that the convictions must be quashed due to a serious failure in the prosecution's disclosure obligations at trial.

However, judges held that the public interest would be undermined by revealing the material covered by the Public Interest Immunity certificate.

Lawyers for the couple returned on Tuesday to seek permission to take their battle for disclosure of the reasons to the Supreme Court.

Although leave was formally refused, judges agreed to certify a question on whether the principles of open justice required a judgement containing a resume or gist of the information contained in the certificate.

It will now be up to the Supreme Court to decide if it wants to examine the case.

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