Northern Ireland

Gerard Devlin case: Court rules PPS breached family's human rights

Gerard Devlin
Image caption Gerard Devlin was stabbed to death outside his home in Ballymurphy in 2006

The Public Prosecution Service breached the European Convention on Human Rights in its handling of fatal stabbing case, Belfast High Court has ruled.

The case was brought by the family of Gerard Devlin, who was stabbed to death in west Belfast in February 2006.

Five people were charged with his murder and other related offences but they pleaded guilty to lesser charges.

Mr Devlin's partner challenged the PPS over its failure to explain its decision to accept the lesser pleas.

Aine McMahon complained that prosecutors did not consult or inform her about that decision to accept the pleas either before the decision was made, or after it came into effect.

The victim's family found out that the five defendants had entered lesser guilty pleas on 24 September 2008 - the day the murder trial was due to begin.

'Respect'

The judgement follows an earlier ruling by Mr Justice Treacy on 9 July which stated that the PPS failed to comply with its own Victims and Witnesses Policy by not consulting the Devlins before dropping the murder charges.

On Friday, the same judge in the same court ruled that the PPS had breached Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights as a result of that failure.

Mr Justice Treacy said that Article 8 not only protects individuals against interference with private and family life but also places a positive obligation on the state to demonstrate respect for them.

He said that to be effective, rights protected by the Convention must be seen to be operational in the lives of citizens and that he was not persuaded that Ms McMahon would have felt her rights protected by the mere existence of a policy document, breached on the day she attended court for the trial of her partner's alleged killers.

"In my view, the right of the partner of a person whose life is unlawfully taken to be appropriately involved in and informed about prosecutorial decisions concerning that death does properly come within that broad range of interests protected by Article 8.

'Difficult'

"Adherence to the Code of Practice and Victims Policy which applied in this case could have ensured that the respondent did demonstrate appropriate respect for this victim's protected interest.

"The PPS chose not to adhere to its own guidance documents and I find that, in the difficult circumstances of this case, that choice did constitute a breach of Article 8," the judge said.

The accused were all members of the extended Notarantonio family.

At their trial in November 2008, Francisco Notarantonio, of Whitecliff Parade, Belfast, was jailed for 11 years after admitting a charge of manslaughter, affray, malicious wounding with intent and attempted malicious wounding with intent.

Four other members of the Notarantonio family pleaded guilty to affray and received sentences ranging from a one-year suspended term to two years' imprisonment.

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