Nationalist QCs will no longer be forced to swear allegiance

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Government's insistence that barristers in Northern Ireland should swear an oath of allegiance to the Crown was illegal, a court ruled yesterday in a judgment which has infuriated Unionists.

The High Court in Belfast said it was wrong for the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, to insist on barristers having to declare they would serve the Queen before they could become QCs.

But Nationalists welcomed the decision as giving effect to the Good Friday Agreement guaranteeing them equality "in all aspects of life."

Seamus Treacy and Barry Macdonald, both Catholics, were in court to hear Mr Justice Kerr rule that the Lord Chancellor was wrong to retain the controversial declaration. The two barristers had applied for a judicial review of his decision that they must declare they would "well and truly serve Queen Elizabeth II".

Mr Treacy and Mr Macdonald claimed the declaration to serve the Queen discriminated against them as nationalists and was an affront to their political sensibilities.

During the hearing earlier this year, it emerged that the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, Sir Robert Carswell, informed the Lord Chancellor that he believed there was a politically-based campaign to have the office of Queen's Counsel replaced by a rank entitled Senior Counsel, the term used in the Irish Republic.

But the court heard that Lord Irvine had decided to retain the existing declaration in the interests of uniformity as it was used in England and Wales.

In his reserved judgement, Mr Justice Kerr concluded that the view of the Lord Chancellor that a decision to retain the declaration would not give rise to controversy was unreasonable in the legal sense.