UN envoy to study UK judicial independence

THE INDEPENDENCE of lawyers and judges throughout the UK is to come under scrutiny during an impending visit to the UK by a special UN envoy.

A request by Param Cumaraswamy, the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, to visit the UK, has already been granted by the UK government, although a date and itinerary have yet to be decided.

A letter from Cumaraswamy to Nigel Williams, the UK's Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, which has been seen by The Lawyer, spells out the UN's concerns.

It makes reference to “consistent reports of alleged systematic abuse of defence lawyers in Northern Ireland by certain police officers since 1992”.

It also refers to “reports of similar abuse, although to a lesser degree, in England”.

In the letter Cumaraswamy adds: “During the visit to the UK, I would wish to meet with judges, law societies and Bar councils.” A source at the Foreign Office said the Special Rapporteur asks to visit an entire country rather than a single region as a matter of course and that the great majority of allegations, as stated in the letter, stem from Northern Ireland.

Rodger Pannone, chair of the Law Society's working party on international human rights, welcomed the visit and said the Special Rapporteur would “receive every co-operation”. He added that “he looked forward to reading his report”.

Paul Mageen, from the human rights pressure group the Committee on the Administration of Justice in Belfast, said that although the number of incidents had dropped during the ceasefire, they were now on the increase again.