Hain contempt case halted

Published Thursday, 17 May 2012
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A contempt of court case taken against the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland over his criticism of a judge has been dismissed.

Hain contempt case halted
Former Secretary of State Peter Hain made the comments in his autobiography. (© Getty)

The case centred on comments made by Mr Hain about a judicial review of his decision to appoint police widow Bertha McDougall as an interim victims' commissioner carried out by Lord Justice Paul Girvan.

The remarks in Mr Hain's autobiography sparked legal action by Attorney General John Larkin QC, who claimed they "scandalised" the judge.

But on Thursday the case was set aside and Mr Larkin said he would not start fresh proceedings based on the same evidence.

The court heard on Thursday that Mr Hain wrote to Mr Larkin and in the letter he claimed he had "never qualified his (Lord Justice Paul Girvan's) standing and motivation as a judge before that case nor have I done since".

"I simply disagreed with, and was exasperated by, the way he dealt with that particular case, coming as it did in the middle of immensely difficult political negotiations to achieve the final democratic peace settlement.

"My words were never intended to, not do I believe that they did, in any way undermine the administration of justice in Northern Ireland or the independence of the Northern Ireland judiciary, that very independence and integrity I worked so hard as Secretary of State to achieve support for from all sections of the community, including those who had previously denied it."

So much of our human rights, our core human rights, depend upon considerations by judges in courts, and if the public loses confidence in that, something irreplaceable is lost.

Attorney General John Larkin QC

Mr Larkin told the court that had the matter been "qualified or explained in the way it now has and only now has, these proceedings would not have been taken".

He added: "In the circumstances I have concluded that as there is no longer any real risk to public confidence in the administration of justice the public interest does not require that this litigation continues to judgment."

The publishers said a footnote would be inserted in a future edition of the book, containing Mr Hain's clarification.

Outside the court, the Attorney General said it was a satisfactory outcome, fostering public confidence in the judiciary.

"It is a victory for the administration of justice and it is important to point out that had Mr Hain provided the explanation and clarification which he now has, either in response to the statement issued by the Lord Chief Justice (Declan Morgan) or indeed in respect to pre-action correspondence, we simply would not have been here," he said.

He defended freedom of speech, saying it was vital, but added that it was not permitted to undermine public confidence in the administration of justice.

The QC said Mr Hain's most recent letter had been a "measured and appropriate" response but defended the use of the offence of scandalising a judge.

Mr Larkin said: "It is not obsolete, whether it will be replaced is a matter for the legislature.

"There must always be some protection accorded to public confidence in the administration of justice."

Lawyers for Mr Hain welcomed his comments.

Both sides have agreed to cover their own costs.

© UTV News
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