By Ray O’Hanlon
A federal appeals court in California has directed the U.S. Justice Department to seek clarification from the British government with regard to the cases against three Maze escapees who are fighting extradition warrants.
The move, by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, follows in the wake of argument — contained in a supplemental briefing by attorneys for the three men — that the cases against them are moot due to the Good Friday agreement’s prisoner-release program.
In its order, the Ninth Circuit stated that having reviewed the supplemental briefing, it was directing the U.S. government "to seek a statement from the United Kingdom as to whether it currently seeks extradition of these appellants or any of them individually.
"If so, on what grounds it does so in the light of the Good Friday agreement and implementing legislation."
The appellants being referred to by the court are Kevin Barry Artt, Pól Brennan and Terence Kirby. All three are members of a larger group that broke out of the H-Blocks of the Maze prison in 1983.
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The Echo reported last week that lawyers for the three were arguing in the recently filled supplemental briefing that the case was moot.
"It is moot because under the Good Friday agreement and its implementing legislation, everyone, including Kevin Artt, Pol Brennan and Terence Kirby, was entitled to be released by July 28, 2000, and everyone except Artt, Brennan and Kirby has been released," the attorneys, attached to the San Francisco firm of Morrison and Foerster, stated.
Reacting to the Ninth Circuit order, attorney James Brosnahan said he was pleased with the court’s move.
"Our view is that the whole thing is moot because of the commitment to release all prisoners under the peace process," he said. "The British government is obliged to reply to the court, or drop the case entirely."
Brosnahan said that all three men had served their time and even now were living under considerable restrictions even though they are out on bail.
"There are real restrictions on them. They must remain in Northern California and they face certain reporting requirements," Brosnahan said.
In their earlier filing, the attorneys for the Maze escapees argued that the three "are the last unreleased Good Friday prisoners with extradition cases pending in the United States. The continued custodial claim by the UK government should end just as custody has ended for everyone else under the GFA."
There was "no legitimate reason for the UK to continue to waste the United States’ taxpayers’ money and this court’s resources," they stated.
The British government’s response to the Ninth Circuit order was not available by presstime.