Human Rights
By Conal McGarrity
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The Policy of Internment and Unlawful Detention Claims Explained

The policy of internment was introduced in Northern Ireland in August 1971 as part of Operation Demetrius. The now infamous policy was continued until December 1975 and approximately 1,900 individuals were arrested and detained without trial in this period.

The recent Supreme Court Judgment in R v Adams has shone light on the issue again and has led to an opening of the flood gates as former internees are now making claims for compensation against the Secretary of State. The purpose of this article is to explain the legal framework of internment and the grounds on which claims are now being made.

Interim Custody Orders

Under Article 4 of the Detention of Terrorists (NI) Order 1972 the Secretary of State had the power to issue an Interim Custody Order where it was considered that an individual was involved in terrorism.

Under an Interim Custody Order an individual could be arrested and held in custody without trial. The Chief Constable could then refer the matter to the Commissioner who had power to make a Detention Order if satisfied that an individual was involved in terrorism.

Under the legislation the Secretary of State was supposed to consider each Interim Custody Order individually. Failure to do so could invalidate the Interim Custody Order and make the internees detention and convictions unlawful. This is the basis on which the Appeal to the Supreme Court in R v Adams was made.

R v Adams – Opening the Floodgates

The recent Supreme Court Judgment has provided a comprehensive clarification on the lawfulness of Interim Custody Orders. Former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams won his appeal and it was held that his detention and conviction were unlawful.

The key question in R v Adams was whether the making of an Interim Custody Order required special consideration by the Secretary of State or whether the ‘Carltona’ principle applied to permit delegation of this function to a Minister of State.

The Court held that the obligation to consider each Interim Custody Order could not be delegated and should have been done by the Secretary of State personally. In his Judgment Lord Kerr stated that ‘a power to detain without trial and potentially for a limitless period was a momentous one and provided insight in to parliament’s intention that a crucial decision should be made by the Secretary of State personally.’

Remedies for Former Internees

Following the R v Adams Judgment, we have been instructed by former internee’s and have sent letters of claim to the Crown Solicitors Office, who are the legal representatives for the Secretary of State. If former internee’s have passed away their next of kin can bring a claim on their behalf.

The first necessary step is to seek all relevant documents and information relating to each of our client’s internment including a copy of all legal advices provided to the Secretary of State. The purpose of this is to examine whether or not the correct procedures have been followed in relation to each of our client’s internment.

If the papers show that a former internee’s Interim Custody Order was not personally considered by the Secretary of State then it is likely that their detention and convictions will be held to be unlawful and damages can be obtained which will take in to account the pain and suffering caused to applicants as well as the unjustified deprivation of their liberty in contravention of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The stated purpose of internment was to combat terrorism and quell political violence. In practice it was a legally questionable mechanism for arresting and detaining individuals with minimal or no evidence of or association with terrorism. The Supreme Court’s Judgment in R v Adams is a welcome development and we anticipate it will lead to similar redress for victims of internment and their family members.

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