Statewatch News Online: Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission - WINS PROTECTION FOR PEOPLE UNDER THREAT

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Three individuals whose cases were supported by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission have won their challenges against the Secretary of State’s refusal to give them protection against threats to their lives.

In the High Court on 27 October Mr Justice Weatherup upheld an application from Mr William Frazer, who is closely associated with the victims’ group Families Acting for Innocent Relatives. Mr Frazer had been refused protection despite police advice that he was under “significant” threat. In police terms this meant that, on the basis of recent general intelligence or the overall security and political climate, Mr Frazer was a likely priority target. The judge held that because the Secretary of State had refused protection to Mr Frazer on the ground that the threat against him was not “imminent”, this was a breach of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which requires states to protect people’s right to life when they are at “real and immediate risk”.

In a second case decided on the same day by the same judge, it was held that Ann and Frances Brolly, both of whom are Sinn Féin councillors on Limavady District Council, had also been wrongly refused protection. The police had advised that there was the potential for Mr and Mrs Brolly being singled out for attack and that the level of threat was “moderate”. Again Mr Justice Weatherup held that the Secretary of State had been wrong to conclude that such a level of threat could not amount to a “real and immediate risk” for the purposes of the European Convention.

Commenting on these two court victories the Chief Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission, Brice Dickson, said:

I am pleased that the government’s system for granting protection has been shown to be flawed. The Commission has long been of the view that the system was not being applied in a way that fully complied with the European Convention. I believe that by funding these two cases to a successful conclusion the Commission has contributed significantly to the better protection of human rights in Northern Ireland.

The victories do not mean that Mr Frazer and Mr and Mrs Brolly will now automatically be granted protection. The Secretary of State will have to reconsider their applications for protection in the light of the judge’s findings.

Notes for editors:

The Human Rights Commission considers about 50 applications for assistance with court cases every year. It applies strict criteria when considering whether to support them and is able to support only about 20% of the applications. In pursuing the cases through the courts it presses for the application of international human rights standards by the judges in Northern Ireland.

The Commission has very limited funding available for its court work – approximately £100,000 per year. Given that an application for judicial review can easily cost £10,000 (double that amount if the case is lost and the winner’s costs have to be paid as well as the loser’s) the Commission has to be very selective.

Further details of the Commission’s casework will be published in its Annual Report, due to be tabled at Westminster within the next few weeks.

Brice Dickson is available for interview on 028 9024 3987 or on 07901 853005.

Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, Temple Court, 39 North Street, Belfast BT1 1NA. Tel: 028 90243987 Fax: 028 90247844

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