No longer a state of emergency?

A study of the use and effect of emergency provisions in Ulster will make fascinating reading for lawyers and civil libertarians.

The most interesting are the Diplock courts and suspended right to silence.

The late Lord Diplock's commission led to the non-jury Diplock court in the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973, in response to concern for the safety of witnesses and juries.

This gave judges the job of trying and convicting scheduled defendants, and also the automatic right of appeal.

The right to silence went in the Criminal Evidence Order 1988. Bar chairman Richard McLaughlin QC says: “There are serious reservations about it because of the enormous pressures it puts on a defendant.”

There is also a web of provisions relating to stop and search, questioning, seizing of assets, even Section II-type investigatory powers for lawyers and accountants.

The latest laws are the emergency provision Act 1991 and the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989.

Most provisions must be renewed annually by Parliament otherwise they cease to take effect, while the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1991 contains provisions for it to fully expire five years after it came into force.

Belfast defence lawyers hope the provisions will wither on the vine with a halt to the violence.