UK Supreme Court overturns jailbreak convictions of Northern Ireland’s Adams

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The British Supreme Court overturned two 1975 convictions of Irish nationalist leader, Gerry Adams, for trying to escape from a prison in Northern Ireland.

The Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that his initial detention had not been lawful.

Adams, who stood down in 2018 as head of Sinn Fein, the main party opposing British rule of Northern Ireland, was among hundreds of people held without trial in the early 1970s under a policy meant to break the guerrilla Irish Republican Army.

While Adams did not dispute the two escape attempts, his lawyers argued that he had not been lawfully detained in the first place and so could not have been convicted of escaping from legal custody.

The court agreed, saying that the internment order that led to Adams’ detention had not been considered by a British cabinet minister, known as a secretary of state, but by a lower-level minister.

“The momentous decision on whether to detain a person without trial, potentially for a limitless period, should have been made by the secretary of state himself,’’ the Supreme Court ruling said.

“The making of the ICO (interim custody order) in respect of the appellant was invalid. It follows that he was not detained lawfully.

“It further follows that he was wrongfully convicted of the offences of attempting to escape from lawful custody and his convictions for those offences must be quashed,’’ the ruling said.

Adams was the main political leader of the movement to end British rule of Northern Ireland for decades.

The violent conflict between mainly Protestant Unionists who favour continued British rule and mainly Catholic Irish Nationalists ended with the Good Friday agreement in 1998.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein under Adams later joined power-sharing governments in the province.