European court criticises Ireland over ex-IRA activist

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The European Court of Human Rights on Friday fined Ireland for taking more than 10 years to decide a case against a convicted IRA activist, a case that eventually ended in his acquittal.

Brendan McFarlane, 60, of Belfast, Northern Ireland, had already served a 20-year sentence in the British province for his role in a 1970 bombing blamed on the Irish Republican Army.

His sentence was interrupted when he escaped from prison in 1983 but he was recaptured in 1989.

Just a few days after being released on parole in 1998, Irish police arrested him and charged him in Dublin on suspicion of a crime committed in 1983, during his time on the run.

It took until June 2008 for him to be acquitted in the case, which involved allegations of a role in a kidnapping and the possession of arms. The charges carried a possible life sentence.

McFarlane tried several times unsuccessfully to get the case against him dismissed, the court noted.

One argument he put forward was that his arrest more than a decade after the events in question undermined his chances of getting a fair trial.

The court agreed that while McFarlane himself might have been responsible for some of the delays, the Irish courts had taken too long over the case.

"The proceedings ended on 28 June 2008, with the applicant's acquittal, and thus lasted over 10 years and 6 months," it said in a statement.

"While the criminal investigation would have been sensitive and somewhat complex, the Court does not consider that this explains the overall length of the criminal proceedings against the applicant," it added.

The court found for McFarlane under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to a fair trial in a reasonable time; and Article 13, the right to an effective legal remedy within the country's legal system.

It ordered Ireland to pay 5,500 euros (6,900 dollars) in damages and 10,000 euros in costs. McFarlane had asked for 15,000 in damages.

© 2010 AFP

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