FM questions legality of OTR letters

FM questions legality of OTR letters

First Minister Peter Robinson has said there is a question over the legality of those letters issued to the so-called 'on-the-runs' after the devolution of policing and justice powers to Stormont in 2010.

Speaking to UTV, the DUP leader said the 38 cases dealt with after policing powers were transferred to Stormont should have been a matter for the Justice Minister David Ford.He said: "It is fairly clear to me that the matters of responsibility lie with the devolved institution and the justice minister should have been informed of those issues and he rather than anybody else should have been deciding whether such letters were sent out or not."A political row erupted in Northern Ireland and in Westminster following the collapse of the trial of John Downey.He denied charges of involvement in the 1982 London Hyde Park bombing.Mr Downey was informed by the PSNI in 2007 that there was no interest in him from them, or any other police force across the UK.However, this assertion proved to be inaccurate as it later transpired that the Metropolitan Police in London wanted to question Mr Downey in relation to the attack.When the letter was revealed in court, the trial judge threw the case out.The revelation led Prime Minister David Cameron to order a judge led inquiry into the existence of the letters.Had it been a matter for the justice minister, he would have had the ability to stop it back in 2010.Peter RobinsonIn the aftermath of the trial it emerged 187 so-called letters of comfort had been sent to those suspected of terrorist crimes.Peter Robinson said Chief Constable Matt Baggott has told him the PSNI has dealt with 228 cases under the scheme."I haven't received any information that says they are legal or illegal," continued Mr Robinson."That is why the inquiry will look at that matter, but it seems plain to me that if by responsibility for prosecutions is a devolved matter and if the responsibility for the police is a devolved matter then there is a Northern Ireland devolved institution responsibility for those matters."Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly, however, said the legality of the letters had been established in a court of law.The North Belfast MLA added: "These letters have now been tested in court and John Downey's letter was brought to court."There were all sorts of things said around it but the final analysis was a government agreed scheme and it was the British attorney general that was involved in it."The letters are legal and in the end they did what they said."

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