You refer in your editorial (Northern Ireland: keep focused, 28 July) to the case of Marian McGlinchey (nee Price). I should be grateful for the opportunity to set out the facts.
Marian McGlinchey received two life sentences in 1973 for her part in the Old Bailey bombing. She was subsequently released on licence in 1980. At the same time she was granted the royal prerogative of mercy (RPM) in respect of a separate conviction which carried a 20-year fixed term sentence. The RPM did not cover her life sentences.
All life sentence prisoners remain on licence for life. They can be recalled at any time if they breach the conditions of their licence or pose a risk of serious harm to the public. A similar system was endorsed by the previous government in the legislation to give effect to the part of the Belfast Agreement that dealt with the early release of prisoners.
Before revoking a prisoner’s licence under the Life Sentences (Northern Ireland) Order 2001, however, the secretary of state must first seek a recommendation from the wholly independent parole commissioners. This is what I did in the case of Marian McGlinchey; their recommendation was that she was in breach of her life licence. Consistent with my overriding responsibility in Northern Ireland for public safety, and in accordance with the law, she was returned to prison.
The independent parole commissioners are now reviewing the case in full. If they are satisfied that it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public that the prisoner should be confined, then they may direct the prisoner’s release. The prisoner has full legal representation and can challenge the case made against her; Marian McGlinchey has yet to do this. The decision of the parole commissioners is final and cannot be overruled by the secretary of state.
It would be outrageous for any secretary of state to do anything other than adhere strictly to the law. Yet the clear inference in your editorial is that I should discard due process and interfere politically in this case. That would fatally undermine the rule of law in Northern Ireland. That is not something I am prepared to do.
Owen Paterson MP
Secretary of state for Northern Ireland