Gerry Adams’ historic convictions for attempting to escape from the Maze Prison in the 1970s have been overturned by the UK’s highest court after it ruled that his detention was unlawful.
The former Sinn Fein leader claimed his two 1975 convictions were unsafe because his detention was not “personally considered” by a senior government minister.
Mr Adams, 71, attempted to escape from the Maze Prison – also known as Long Kesh internment camp – on Christmas Eve in 1973 and again in July 1974. He was later sentenced to a total of four-and-a-half years.
His lawyers argued in a November hearing that the interim custody order (ICO) used to initially detain Mr Adams in the 1973 incident was not authorised by the then-secretary of state of Northern Ireland, Willie Whitelaw. This rendered his detention unlawful and his convictions should be overturned, they said.
Lord Kerr, former Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, announced the Supreme Court's judgement at a remote hearing on Wednesday and said the court unanimously allowed Mr Adams' appeal and quashed his convictions.
The judge said Mr Adams‘ detention was unlawful because it had not been “considered personally” by Mr Whitelaw.
Lord Kerr said: “The making of the ICO in respect of the appellant was invalid since the secretary of state had not himself considered it.
“In consequence, Mr Adams‘ detention was unlawful, hence his convictions of attempting to escape from lawful custody were, likewise, unlawful.”
Lord Kerr added: “The appeal is therefore allowed and his convictions are quashed.”
Mr Adams had been detained under an ICO desiged under the Detention of Terrorists (Northern Ireland) Order 1972, and "such an order could be made where the secretary of state considered that an individual was involved in terrorism", explained the judge.
Mr Adams has consistently denied being a member of the IRA.
In the court’s written judgment, Lord Kerr said the power to make such an order was “a momentous one”, describing it as “a power to detain without trial and potentially for a limitless period”.
He added: “This provides an insight into Parliament’s intention and that the intention was that such a crucial decision should be made by the secretary of state.”
Mr Adams urged the government to identify and inform others whose internment may also have been unlawful.
"I have no regrets about my imprisonment, except for the time I was separated from my family. However, we were not on our own. It is believed that around 2,000 men and women were interned during its four-and-a-half years of operation," he said.
"I consider my time in the prison ship Maidstone, in Belfast prison and in Long Kesh to have been in the company of many remarkable, resilient and inspiring people. Internment, like all coercive measures, failed.
"There is an onus on the British Government to identify and inform other internees whose internment may also have been unlawful."
Reporting by PA
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