Refusing Gerry Adams a payout for quashed convictions was unlawful, court rules
Former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams was wrongly denied compensation after his convictions for attempted prison breaks were quashed, a court has ruled.
Mr Adams won a Supreme Court appeal in 2020 over historical convictions for two attempts to escape the Long Kesh internment camp in Northern Ireland in the 1970s.
However, he was subsequently denied a payout for the wrongful convictions when he applied for compensation from Stormont’s Department of Justice.
That decision was ruled unlawful by a High Court judge in Belfast on Friday.
Mr Adams was interned without trial in 1973 at Long Kesh, which was also known as the Maze prison.
At his Supreme Court hearing, Mr Adams’ lawyers argued that, because the interim custody order (ICO) used to initially detain him was not authorised by the then-secretary of state for Northern Ireland Willie Whitelaw, his detention was unlawful and his convictions should be overturned.
The legal bid to overturn the convictions was prompted after previously confidential details around the signing of the ICO emerged when state papers were released from the archives.
The Supreme Court ruled that Mr Adams’ detention was unlawful because it had not been “considered personally” by Mr Whitelaw.
However, in refusing the later bid for compensation, the DoJ argued that payment for a miscarriage of justice was only due in circumstances where a “newly-discovered fact” had led to the overturning of convictions.
The department said in Mr Adams’ case the quashing of the conviction was based on an interpretation of what was required in law in the 1970s, as opposed to a new or newly-discovered fact.
The former Sinn Fein leader challenged the DoJ decision in Belfast High Court and a judge ruling on the appeal found in his favour on Friday.
Mr Justice Colton said the issue related to the ICO was not a fact known to the applicant or to the court at the time of his trial.
He said it formed the basis of the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“I therefore conclude that the DoJ erred in law in determining that the reversal of the applicant’s conviction arose from a legal ruling on facts which had been known all along,” said the judge.
“I am satisfied that the applicant meets the test for compensation under section 133 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.”
Justice Colton quashed the DoJ decision, declared it unlawful and ordered that Mr Adams’ application be reconsidered.
Responding to the ruling, a spokeswoman for the DoJ said: “We note the judgment and are considering it.”