Northern Ireland

PPS chief accused of bias over Troubles legacy cases

Sir Gerald Howarth
Image caption Sir Gerald Howarth said Barra McGrory was the "Sinn Féin supporting director of public prosecutions"

The impartiality of the head of NI's Public Prosecutions Service (PPS) has been questioned under parliamentary privilege by an MP.

Sir Gerald Howarth made the comments during a debate on Northern Ireland.

He claimed Barra McGrory issued a notice to news desks advising them he would take "appropriate legal action" if they published any article that "alleges a lack of impartiality".

The PPS said it "would never seek to influence political debate".

Mr McGrory and the PPS had previously been criticised under parliamentary privilege by another Conservative MP, Sir Henry Bellingham over Troubles legacy cases.

Sir Gerald, a former defence minister, was directing his comments to Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire.

The Conservative MP for Aldershot said he was making a "really firm plea" to Mr Brokenshire to "protect the interest of former British soldiers, currently being charged by the Sinn Féin supporting director of public prosecutions in Northern Ireland, with murder for events which took place over 40 years ago".

Image caption A PPS spokesperson said it and Mr McGrory (pictured) applies the law "without fear, favour or prejudice"

Sir Gerald added: "Is my right honourable friend aware that it appears that the director of public prosecutions issued a notice to news desks, not for publication.

"(It allegedly says) 'We would advise that if you should publish an article which alleges a lack of impartiality on the part of the director or any other prosecutor that the appropriate legal action would be taken, and we will make use of this correspondence in that regard and in relation to a claim for aggravated and exemplary damages'.

"Is this not an attempt to muzzle parliament and indeed to question the right of this house to support those soldiers who sought to bring about peace in Northern Ireland?"

'Protected from political influence'

Mr Brokenshire said that he had "some concerns about imbalance within the system" but he would "not comment on any individual decision".

Responding to Sir Gerald's claims, a PPS spokesperson said: "The Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland is wholly independent of all political parties and the political system.

"As such, we would never seek to influence political debate on any subject in any way.

"Equally, we must take all appropriate steps to ensure that our decision-making processes are protected from political influence from any source.

"This is necessary both to safeguard the integrity of prosecutorial decision making within the wider criminal justice system and to ensure that PPS staff are able to carry out difficult but important functions strictly in accordance with applicable law and the code for prosecutors.

"We are aware of Mr Howarth's political viewpoint in relation to the prosecution of cases involving soldiers, which is not enshrined in law in the UK.

"The Public Prosecution Service only applies the law as it currently stands in Northern Ireland and does so without fear, favour or prejudice."

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