The Court of Appeal in Belfast today held that the treatment meted out to the ‘Hooded Men’, if it occurred today, would “properly be characterised as torture”. They further held that the Chief Constable had promised a criminal investigation, which has not yet happened, but that any investigation by the PSNI Legacy Investigation Branch or its successor was unlikely “to engender public confidence”.
A majority of the judges also commented that while it was natural for civil servants to protect the political reputation of their Ministers, if that extended to protecting them from criminal investigation, “the rule of law is undermined”.
CAJ represents Mary McKenna, the daughter of one of the Hooded Men, Sean McKenna, who died in 1975, partly as a result of his torture.
On hearing the judgment, Mary said, “I am pleased that the court has recognised that what happened to my Daddy was torture. I am also pleased that the court has found that there should be an independent investigation; after almost fifty years, it is about time.”
On 9 August 1971, on Day 1 of internment, 12 men (now referred to as the Hooded Men) were subjected to ‘the five techniques’ by RUC Special Branch men, who had been specially trained by the British Army.
In 1978, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found that the techniques were “inhuman and degrading treatment”, but not torture. ECtHR has since refused to revise that finding. However, the Court of Appeal in Belfast has today found unequivocally that the treatment was torture.
The appeal court also found that the original judge had properly quashed the review carried out by the Historical Enquiries Team, which was “unduly narrow”, though, “disappointingly”, it had been signed off by two senior PSNI officers. The court commented that this raised “an issue about whether there is likely to be any public confidence in an investigation without practical independence from the PSNI”.
Gemma McKeown, CAJ’s Solicitor, said, “We will be writing to the Chief Constable to clarify what investigative steps will be taken in response to the court’s judgment and its criticism of the Legacy Investigation Branch in terms of its independence. As the court has said, this is a matter of the rule of law.”
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