Law Lords to decide fate of jailed terrorist

A man jailed for life by the Northern Ireland Crown Court in January 1994 after being convicted of murder has won the right to take his appeal against conviction to the House of Lords.

Thomas Stewart Patrick McWilliams was jailed on 14 January 1994. His appeal against conviction was dismissed by Northern Ireland's Lord Chief Justice, Sir Brian Hutton and Lords Justice Carswell and Nicholson in the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal on 20 September 1996.

Lords Goff, Nolan and Hope have now given McWilliams leave to appeal.

His case will involve a detailed investigation into procedures surrounding alleged confessions made to the police by those accused of terrorism in the absence of lawyers.

When McWilliams' appeal was dismissed, two questions of points of law were detailed by the court in the event of an appeal to the Law Lords. These will form the foundation of McWilliams' appeal case.

The Law Lords will be asked to decide what should happen in a situation where a judge is trying a case without a jury under the 1991 Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act in which it is proved that the accused has made confessions to terrorist crimes where a solicitor was not present and access to a solicitor had been lawfully delayed under the provisions of the act.

They will be asked to rule whether such evidence should be excluded from the trial on the basis that it constitutes a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, even though the judge may be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the police had not behaved unreasonably to extract a confession.

The Law Lords will also be asked to decide whether a judge, faced with such circumstances, should acquit the accused on the basis that a conviction would either be unsafe or a breach of the European Convention.