by Peter Stanford EVIDENCE from the Bar Council to the committee of inquiry into the case of the Guildford Four may help the six Irishmen jailed for life in 1975 for the Birmingham pub bombings, their supporters said this week.
In its submission to the May committee of inquiry into the erroneous conviction of the Guildford Four for pub bombings in the Surrey town in 1975, the Bar Council, representing the barristers of England and Wales, urged that fresh evidence in such cases should be heard by juries. The Council described the Court of Appeal as "excessively cautious" in ordering retrials in cases where fresh evidence had been produced.
The Birmingham Six's case came before the Court of Appeal two years ago, and new evidence then presented on the two grounds upon which the men were convicted — forensic details and their confessions — was rejected by the Lords of Appeal.
The Bar Council in its submission to the May inquiry suggests that the Court of Appeal, when dealing with new evidence in a case, "should ask itself whether the evidence is new, relevant and capable of making a difference to the reasoning of a jury. If this low threshold is passed the appellant should have a right to a retrial".
The Bar Council's recommendations, which supporters of the Birmingham Six said this week support their contention that the case against the men should be heard by a jury, came days after Home Secretary David Waddington announced a fresh inquiry into the convictions. Police officers , from Devon and Cornwall are to examine new submissions sent to the Home Office by solicitors acting for Patrick Hill, Hugh Callaghan, John Walker, Richard MclIkenny, Gerry Hunter and Billy Power.
Catholic MP David Alton, who along with churchmen like Cardinals Hume and 0 Fiaich, Bishops Cahal and Edward Daly and many other prominent figures, has expressed reservations about the conviction of the Birmingham Six, said that both the Bar Council's submission and Mr Waddington's announcement were hopeful signs. "I feel as if David Waddington is edging towards a retrial, a significant advance on his previous position".
The Bar Council also suggested that there may be some force in recommending that there should be other evidence to support a confession if it is obtained in breach of codes of practice or from a vulnerable person.