Former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has failed to have two historic convictions concerning escape bids overturned. This escape bids arose out of circumstances when Adams was interned without trial in 1972 during the Troubles in Maze/Long Kesh Prison. Adams was briefly released so that he could participate in peace talks but he was re-arrested once the discussion broke down and the violence continued. Adams subsequently attempted to escape with three others from Maze/Long Kesh in December 1973 by cutting through the prison wire fence. When this action failed he later tried to escape by plotting to kidnap a man who looked like him and exchange places. Both of these attempts earned Adams two sentences of 18 months and 3 years imprisonment.

Adams did not launch an appeal for 40 years. However this appeal was triggered by subsequent Government disclosure of papers relating to the arrest. These papers revealed that due to the debate surrounding internment, in 1974 the law had changed and only the Secretary of State could decide on an interment order. Mr Adams legal team argued that this invalidated the order as it had not been considered by the Secretary of State. They also contrasted this with the original interment order which had been made by the Minister for Justice. They also concluded that the wording of Art. 4(1) of the Detention of Terrorists (NI) Order 1972 meant each order had to be considered personally.

The Northern Court of Appeal rejected these claims however. They based this decision around an analysis of the Carltona principle. The Carltona principle, which arose out of an English WWII case, posits that a minister can delegate some decisions to lower staff members even if they are their strictly within their prerogative. This is due to the fact that ministers’ duties are often so wide reaching that they could not personally attend to all of them. In this case the Court chose to agree with that principle. They found that as the wording of the statue in question was not so distinctive from other similar acts, it did not impose any specific personal duty on a minister. The Court stated in its decision ‘Clearly the making of the order is the more significant decision. The signing of the order is the authority on which officials act to detain the person subject to the order. The distinction indicates that the appropriate person who might act on behalf of the specified Minister may be more confined under Article 4(1) than under Article 4(2). It does not lead to the necessary implication that only the Secretary of State may make the order.

Mr Adams has since released a statement, saying that he was not surprised by the Court’s decision. He has withdrawn to reconsider his options. One of the judges Sir Ronald Weatherup commented ‘Accordingly the court is satisfied that the convictions are safe’.

Daniel Forde – Law Editor