THE highest court in the land has praised the RUC’s handling of the 2001 Holy Cross dispute – in a damning dismissal of claims of sectarianism and human rights breaches levelled at the police.
The House of Lords threw out a case against the force yesterday.
One Law Lord also offered withering criticism of the nature of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s (NIHRC) support for the lawsuit.
It was taken by the mother of a Holy Cross Primary School pupil (represented by solicitors Madden and Finucane), accusing the RUC of infringing her daughter’s rights in its management of the stand-off.
Five Law Lords unanimously found against the appeal of the parent and Child E, which was previously also dismissed in the Belfast High Court and the Court of Appeal.
They rejected claims the RUC was not robust enough with protestors.
They also rejected allegations the policing operation could have had a sectarian bias and that the force treated the walk to school like a contentious Orange parade, rather than dealing with the need to protect the children.
The eminent judges believed the police did the best possible job in the most difficult of circumstances – into which they poured millions of pounds and thousands of man hours.
They found no evidence, whatsoever, that the RUC would have treated the situation differently had the protestors been Catholic and the children Protestants.
Indeed Lord Carswell said the RUC’s actions at Holy Cross – when officers “placed themselves as a shield between a hostile and dangerous crowd and a small group of vulnerable people” – ultimately helped resolve the situation.
“In my judgment the evidence supports the overall wisdom of the course which they (the RUC] adopted,” he stated.
Ex-RUC Assistant Chief Constable Alan McQuillan, who oversaw the operation, said: “We did everything possible to try to make sure we did this correctly and within the law.
“Not one child was physically injured, although they suffered stress. But many officers were injured.”
The police said they were pleased it had been established they did everything under the obligations of human rights legislation.
DUP MLA and policing spokesman Ian Paisley Jnr said the police had been “totally vindicated” by the judgment.
And he attacked the NIHRC for backing the case – despite legal advice and some of the commission warning against the move.
Mr Paisley Jnr noted that one of the Law Lords, Lord Hoffman, seriously questioned the judgment of the NIHRC.
He said that the commission had been offered a “stinging rebuke” by Lord Hoffman whom he believed had “chided the intervention of the NIHRC in stark terms”.
Lord Hoffman said: “An intervention is of no assistance if it merely repeats points which the appellant (mother] or respondent (RUC/the Crown] has already made.
“I am bound to say that in this appeal the oral submissions on behalf of the NIHRC only repeated in rather more emphatic terms the points which had already been quite adequately argued by counsel for the appellant.
“In future I hope that interveners will avoid unnecessarily taking up the time of the House in this way.”
Mr Paisley said: “That ruling effectively accused the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission of merely repeating points which had already been made by the appellant. Such an approach is a very poor reflection on the commission.
“However, that a senior Law Lord should have accused the commission of unnecessarily taking up the time of the House of Lords is a truly damning state of affairs indeed.
“The NIHRC sought to intervene in this case and in so doing they have been deeply embarrassed.”
But the commission noted it did not take the case but intervened, with the House of Lords’ permission, as a third party on human rights legal points.
NIHRC chief commissioner Monica McWilliams insisted the body was right to take the case.
It has sought to establish that when the case was dismissed in the Belfast courts a wrong test had been applied on human rights and the commission had needed to clarify the point for future reference.
Ms McWilliams noted Lord Carswell agreed there had been a wrong test and said Lord Hoffman would not permit the NIHRC making such challenges in future.
It is expected that the case of Child E could be taken to the European Court of Human Rights.