As the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland made clear in her statement to the House of Commons on 9 September last year:
- the OTR scheme has ended;
- the scheme was not an amnesty;
- the letters were not a commitment by the State that individuals would not be prosecuted, whatever the strength of the case against them.
The letters were only ever a statement of the facts as they were understood at the time, as to whether or not an individual was wanted for questioning by the police. They were not intended to preclude investigation or prosecution based on new evidence emerging, or on the basis of a fresh assessment of the existing evidence.
The Government is today repeating its statement that recipients of the letters should cease to place any reliance on them.
The Committee has called on the Government to ensure “that all necessary steps are taken, including, if necessary, introducing legislation to ensure the letters have no legal effect”. Having considered all of the options available to it, the Government decided that the fairest, and most effective way to reduce the risk to future prosecutions was through the Secretary of State’s statement to Parliament on 9 September. This approach was preferable to legislation and it remains the Government’s position.
The Secretary of State has assured the Committee that the NIO fully supports the PSNI in ensuring it has the necessary resources to fulfil its duties, and welcomed the additional £20m provided to the PSNI in the Executive’s final budget for 2015-16.
In addition, through the Stormont House Agreement, the Northern Ireland parties and the two Governments have all recognised the unique challenges faced by Northern Ireland in addressing its’ troubled past, and the Government will contribute up to £150m over five years to fund new work in this area. However, it is primarily for the Executive to ensure that the PSNI are sufficiently resourced to undertake their duties. One of the reasons why it is essential the Executive parties resolve the current dispute on implementation of the welfare aspects of the Stormont House Agreement is to ensure they are able to resource their other priorities, including policing.
The report recommends that the Government should release the names of recipients of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy (RPM). The Secretary of State has made clear on several occasions that she does not consider this to be appropriate, and this continues to be the case. The Committee report notes that the names of 16 recipients of the RPM between 2000 and 2002 are already in the public domain, through court proceedings in Northern Ireland.
The Committee requests that the Government “state its policy on pursuing those who were still wanted at the end of the OTR scheme”. The Secretary of State has made clear that the Government has taken the steps it considers necessary to remove barriers to prosecution. The Government has done this in order that the police and prosecuting authorities can treat individuals covered by the scheme in the same way they would for any other individual: investigations should be led by the evidence. If the police and prosecuting authorities consider there is evidence sufficient to justify arrest, charge or prosecution, that is what will happen, in the same way as it would in a case which did not involve the OTR scheme.
In relation to individuals outside of the jurisdiction, since 2004 international arrest warrants have been issued between judicial authorities in Europe under the European Arrest Warrant (EAW). Government departments play no significant role. The Government’s position is to support the independence of the judicial authorities in pursuing extradition of wanted individuals in Europe.
A number of recommendations made by the report by Lady Justice Hallett were addressed through the creation of the ‘on the runs’ Policy Oversight Board, under NIO chairmanship. This was established to bring together representatives from a number of government departments and agencies to tackle any residual issues left over from the scheme. Of the 11 recommendations contained in the Hallett Report, six have so far been implemented.