Over the past few months and more recently on 16 November the Belfast Telegraph journalist, Liam Clarke has raised in his analysis the role of the Attorney General of Northern Ireland, Mr John Larkin. He acknowledges the AG as Chief Legal Advisor to the Stormont Executive.
In his article and analysis he relies heavily in analysis on the ‘exclusive’ information obtained from sources unknown but nevertheless brimming with fortitude and rectitude. With rubber waders he walks into the murky pond of politically led legal cynicism, casting a line on the surface of the legal reflections produced within Stormonts agency of the AG whose actual motives and deep water manoeuvrings are all a bit strange to the journalist. The required wider thinking is presently overlooked in favour of some fitted statements of legal speculation kindly and anonymously provided to him.
The AG has not risen to the bait and no matter whatever the spin is likely to be it is apparent the waters need to clear a bit for the public to see the swimming of the shoals around the issues the AG seeks to engage with. The tactic of delaying judgement in respect of inquests has made that matter once again a case of denied review and justice if only temporarily.
Reporting in 23 October 2012 for the Belfast Telegraph on the matter of private abortion clinic practices being looked into by the justice committee, Mr Clarke noted the AG spokesman relating “The Attorney General has made an offer to the justice committee and now it is a matter for them” in relation to the proposal to assist in establishing the facts concerning abortion within Northern Ireland and the legality of a clinic being set up in Belfast. No small matter and one which an urgency of obtaining clarity to the framework under which citizens of Northern Ireland address abortion is apparent to everyone. Mr Clarke seems to recognise the willingness of the AG in helping to establish the legal parameters but has at the back of his mind it would seem, a concern that he may actually make legal matters too obvious for the liking of the political masters who ensure a tedium of copy reaches the pages of certain newspaper outlets and into the public realm. The journalists link the personal views of the AG expressed in 2008 on radio as a current provocation to controversy. Mr Larkin has only the DUP in support as the 23.10.12 analysis informs. It further informs it is not likely (the offer) to be taken up. Well some 17 pages of ‘Stormont Legal advice’ has reached the desk of Liam Clarke as he presses on the AG favouring of informing the public what is possible in the law and what is not. The Politicians find themselves subject to his advice as he is commissioned with telling the Executive – it is the same as advice – what Law is applicable and what legislation is in need of repair. That repairs are needed is evident through the machinations over contentious issues and the truth is normally the victim of suppression. To have politicians whose legal practice and knowledge is unpractised (J. Alister being an exception) and possibly tarnished by allegiances forged on crude analysis; and form a legislative framework which cannot stand moral or ethical scrutiny never mind legislative application is again a measure of our lack of ability to frame proper structures in our community. The reviews are in place but the debate is absent.
Liam Clarke has authored the ‘Stormont lawyers’ phraseology it seems, as up pops his earlier analysis or was that itself borrowed?, – “The justice committee was advised that, in addition to his statutory role as an adviser to ministers “he has taken on the mantle as guardian of the rule of law” – although nowhere mentioned in legislation.
This repetition might have a little traction were it sound judgement but unfortunately it is well short of that. It lacks the credibility it seeks as it never was the intention in my view of the Attorney General to be anything but concerned with the conflicts and deficiencies arising in the Law over which he has a responsibility to see there is absolute faith and integrity in place. Something which it is clear in abundance, there is not. It may be a historical reality that the politicians may in rewriting their own history cast a dishonourable and lawless repost at their own perceptions of what is ‘cricket’ and what is not. I feel a boycott coming to address us.
It is patchwork tapestry and the Law is much greater than this. The Attorney General may be alone currently in trying to rectify those aspects which are mistakenly presented in the false premise of purporting to be actual law and were discrepancies and contradictions exist as found laboriously by courts. The Law is in need of scrutiny daily and it is his day job to so examine and advise where there is a complete distortion being carried as a construct by politicians and biddable lawyers.
The offer of the Attorney General is solely based I would imagine, on a necessity to legally frame questions as a link to the otherwise inconsequential ‘views’ – ‘opinions’ often passed of as ‘examination of the facts’ – more quasi-legal generals working as amateur sleuths when all it takes is clear thinking and estimable analysis.
All of which I am sure the Attorney General is capable of without any pre-disposition.
It probably vexes politicians how someone could set aside their own prejudices in the interests of citizens but in the AG you probably have it. What other facts are to be found may well trouble some but for the many they can be a godsend.
The committee is not able to cross examine interpretations of law and would need at the time or subsequently to test the views on which the path to worthy legislation lies.
Being a witness is a forbearance which can be seen as fundamentally the use of his skills. What the justice committee will obtain is also malleable and not absolute. The use of the information is where the complexities arise.
Its conclusions will inevitably be subject to Assembly scrutiny if an alteration or clarification of the Law is found needed.
The powers of the Attorney Generals office are not inscrutable, nor does he believe this I would imagine. Is he aggrieved by processes of the law, the legislative purpose on a range of issues: in the main due to interference and political immaturity? I would imagine yes. The AG is not immune from the Law and to suggest his actions are anyway counter to it is politically spiteful. The AG can advocate for ‘the law’ in making ‘arguable distinctions’ live and current.
If a Government which became wholly responsible for creating all its legislation, instead of using a menu obtained on a different platform then it would probably require less not more scrutiny as the abiding wishes off the Community would be expressed. It only need then; (previously and arguably currently a major deficit) accord with the universality of Human Rights as expressed on this island by the EHRC Human Rights obligations.
Working on its own account is desirable but as the justice committee has little genuinely unencumbered legal advice it is entirely wise to avail of, instead of obstructing a full and proper examination of issues of such sensitivity and importance to the people of this island. It is hardly regressive to show a lead and willingness to engage with demanding issues.
There is also a requirement to ensure that across all aspects of the practice of the law the matter of the individual’s rights and responsibilities are not unaccountably undermined by law which is not properly formed.
I would look forward to the inquests of the cases in which the Attorney General considers a rehearing is justified and justice can be found. It is clear there is considerable resistance from some seeking to suppress the truth. The countervailing posturing and dependence on the ‘exclusive’ access to information is the stuff of pulp fiction and not the narrative deserved by many.
The way in which information on such matters is obtained to be disseminated across the public readership is deplorable and is itself a distinct if common corruption of the news media questionable access to these streams of information. Attempts at opinion shaping and reporting require a more fundamentally rigorous approach and not exclusivity exploitative of hierarchy nuances in place here in Northern Ireland.