Former Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams was illegally hospitalized at the height of Northern Ireland's problems because the wrong minister approved his arrest warrant, the supreme court ruled.
His two convictions for trying to escape Maze prison in the 1970s were also overturned by the UK's highest court.
The unanimous decision follows a hearing in London last year, in which 71-year-old lawyers contested the way he was kept under emergency law.
In pronouncing judgment, Lord Kerr said: “We believe that the power [to make a detention order] it should have been exercised by the secretary of state and that, therefore, the drafting of the provisional custody order was invalid, since the secretary of state himself had not considered it. As a result, Adam's detention was illegal. "
Adams, who has always denied membership in the IRA, was arrested under Article 4 of the 1972 Terrorist Detention Order (Northern Ireland), which covered anyone whom the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland “suspected was concerned about the commission or attempt to commit any act of terrorism ”.
The regulations required that the Northern Ireland secretary be personally involved in making such a decision. Adams tried to overturn two criminal convictions for escaping Maze prison in 1973 and 1974.
Documents released to the public registry under the 30-year rule revealed that the government knew there was a procedural irregularity in relation to the arrest of Adams and other Republicans who tried to escape with him from the heavily guarded internment camp.
A July 17, 1974 note recorded a meeting held by the then Prime Minister of Labor, Harold Wilson, called to consider "an urgent problem that the attorney general had brought to his attention".
The note explained that “after a recent escape attempt by four prisoners [a reference to Adams and others] from Maze, an examination of the documents relating to the prisoners revealed that requests for provisional custody orders for three of them had not been personally examined by the former Northern Ireland secretary of state during the conservative administration.
“Now it looked like the [previous] The conservative administration had left the two tasks to the junior ministers in the Northern Ireland office and, according to [the attorney general’s] information, there may be up to 200 people illegally detained in Northern Ireland. Adams' order was signed by a minister of state.
The supreme court was asked to decide whether it was the intention of parliament that only the secretary of state for Northern Ireland had the power to issue a provisional custody order.
The Northern Ireland public affairs director, who was the defendant, successfully argued in the Northern Ireland courts that the Carltona principle – based on a 1943 test case – allows “where parliament specifies that a decision should be made by a specified minister, this decision can usually be made by an appropriate person on behalf of the minister. "
Adams, who was TD from Sinn Féin to Louth in the Irish Dáil until February, was not present at the supreme audience in London last November.
The case was tried by five judges, including the chief justice of England and Wales, Lord Burnett. Kerr, a former head of justice in Northern Ireland, presided.