Lawyers to meet UN on threat claims

A United Nations delegation will visit London and Belfast this week to investigate complaints that lawyers defending IRA suspects are being harassed by the RUC.
As the UN’s special investigator, Malaysian lawyer Param Cumaraswamy prepared to meet judges and lawyers, one Northern Ireland solicitor claimed that intimidation by RUC officers was widespread.

Peter Madden says he has been demanding an independent investigation into solicitors’ claims of verbal abuse and death threats for the past 10 years. “It’s very widespread and has been going on for some considerable time,” he claimed. “Lawyers are threatened when they come to the holding centre to see their client. There have also been threatening phonecalls in the middle of the night.” Only a small number of legal practices in Northern Ireland will deal with “scheduled” or paramilitary offences. Pearse MacDermott of the Solicitors’ Criminal Bar Association said: “We work in an adversarial system but it shouldn’t involve naked aggression. “Lawyers have been reluctant to put their heads above the parapet in case it exacerbates things. They tend to take their own security precautions and keep their heads down.” Mr Cumaraswamy, who arrives in Britain for a 10-day visit today, will meet British government ministers, judges and lawyers and is hoping to visit detention centres in Northern Ireland. His agenda will include the case of Pat Finucane, Mr Madden’s colleague who received death threats and was later killed by loyalists in 1989. “There were very serious threats made to Pat shortly before he was shot and one of those said he would be, and should be shot by loyalists,” said Mr Madden. New RUC rules enabling the tapping of telephones will also come under scrutiny, UN sources said. The RUC said it would cooperate with any genuine investigation.