Gerry Adams was unlawfully denied compensation after his historical convictions for attempting to escape from prison were overturned, a high court judge has ruled.
The former Sinn Féin leader met the test for compensation and the Department of Justice (DoJ) must reconsider his application, Mr Justice Colton ruled on Friday.
The decision was a victory for Adams in a long-running case linked to his attempted escapes from Long Kesh internment camp, later known as Maze prison, in 1973 and 1974 at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. He was convicted in 1975 of two attempts to escape lawful custody.
In 2020, the supreme court in London quashed both convictions on a technicality – it deemed the custody order for his initial detention invalid because the then secretary of state, Willie Whitelaw, had not personally authorised it.
The DoJ said in 2021 that Adams was ineligible for compensation for a miscarriage of justice because it was the analysis of a legal point that led to the guilty verdicts being overturned, rather than a new or newly discovered fact.
Adams launched a legal challenge, saying he qualified for compensation because the custody order was defective.
The judge said both sides had been unaware of the factual situation surrounding the invalid custody order. “The applicant has been convicted of a criminal offence, his conviction has been reversed in circumstances where a newly discovered fact (the lack of consideration by the secretary of state) shows beyond reasonable doubt that there has been a miscarriage of justice, that is, the applicant is innocent of the crime for which he was convicted,” he said.
“I therefore conclude that the Department of Justice erred in law in determining that the reversal of the applicant’s conviction arose from a legal ruling on facts which had been known all along. I am satisfied that the applicant meets the test for compensation under the Criminal Justice Act 1988.”
Adams was among almost 2,000 suspected paramilitary members who were detained without trial in the early 1970s, a controversial policy that backfired by fuelling support for the IRA. Adams has consistently denied being a member of the IRA.
It is alleged that in his first escape attempt, Adams and three other republican prisoners cut a hole in the prison fence on Christmas Eve 1973 but were intercepted before the escape. The second attempt, in 1974, allegedly involved a plot to substitute Adams for a man who resembled him.
The convictions for the escape attempts were Adams’ only convictions from the Troubles.