NEW anti-terrorism legislation that pushes back prison release dates for men caught in surveillance operation targeting IRA Continuity violates their human rights, the appeals court ruled.
Senior judges have held that the provisions which retrospectively increased prison sentences had “subverted” the original sentencing provisions.
Despite the incompatibility of the 2021 law on combating terrorism and sentencing with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the regulations remain in force.
Rather, it will be up to Parliament to make any legislative changes deemed necessary.
The findings were made during a challenge by four of the men jailed last year following the MI5 bugging operation at a house in Newry, County Down.
Under the law, introduced amid public outcry over the attacks on Fishmongers Hall and Streatham in London, offenders in Northern Ireland must now serve two-thirds of their sentences behind bars.
Their cases must also be referred to the parole board before any release.
The new law has had an impact on Seamus Morgan (65) who is serving a three-year sentence for belonging to a banned organization in connection with the secret recordings of 2014.
Morgan, of Barcroft Park in Newry, was told he would serve 18 months in custody and 18 months under license.
Originally slated for a June release this year, that date has been pushed back by at least six months.
Three of the other men jailed for offenses related to the MI5 operation demanded the same statement that the law violates their human rights.
They are: Joseph Matthew Lynch (80) of Beechgrove Avenue, Weston, Co Limerick; Kevin John Paul Heaney (48) of Blackstaff Mews, Belfast; and Terence Marks (61) of Parkhead Crescent in Newry.
Defense lawyers said the new legislation represented a “nadir of injustice.”
Their clients pleaded guilty on counsel and had the right to be convicted under the criminal regime at the time, it was argued.
In rendering his judgment on appeal, Lord Justice Maguire ruled that the act was contrary to Article 7 of the ECHR, which states that there can be no punishment without law.
He said the provisions governing the sentencing process for the four men had been tampered with, as penalties imposed by the trial judge were redefined or changed.
In a reference to Article 7, the judge said: “This provision concerns the rule of law and is intended to protect against arbitrary acts, not only against measures which appear to have limited logical recourse, but also against measures which contravene the article despite the contrary. appearing rational and determined. “
But the declaration of incompatibility does not affect the validity, maintenance in force or execution of the law.
Lord Justice Maguire underlined: “The impugned law is not annulled or annulled and remains in force.
“Whether or not these circumstances lead to the change in the law is not the business of this court, but it is for others to decide.”