Considering Just-World Thinking in Counter-Terrorism Cases: Miscarriages of Justice in Northern Ireland

Marny A. Requa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Recent literature has drawn a parallel between the discriminatory application of counterterrorism legislation to the Irish population in the United Kingdom during the Northern Ireland conflict and the targeting of Muslims after September 2001. Less attention has been paid to lessons that can be drawn from judicial decision making in terrorism-related cases stemming from the Northern Ireland conflict. This Article examines Northern Ireland Court of Appeal (“NICA”) jurisprudence on miscarriages of justice in cases regarding counterterrorism offenses. In particular, the Article focuses on cases referred after the 1998 peace agreements in Northern Ireland from the Criminal Cases Review Commission (“CCRC”), a relatively new entity that investigates potential wrongful convictions in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Although the NICA’s human rights jurisprudence has developed significantly in recent years, the study of CCRC-referred cases finds that judges have retained confidence in the integrity of the conflict-era counterterrorism system even while acknowledging abuses and procedural irregularities that occurred. This study partially contradicts contentions that judicial deference to the executive recedes in a post-conflict or post-emergency period. Despite a high rate of quashed convictions, the NICA’s decisions suggest that it seeks to limit a large number of referrals and demonstrate a judicial predisposition to defend the justness of the past system’s laws and procedure. This perspective is consistent with what social psychologists have studied as “just-world thinking,” in which objective observers, although motivated by a concern with justice, believe—as a result of cognitive bias—that individuals “got what they deserved.” The Article considers other potential interpretations of the jurisprudence and contends that conservative decision making is particularly dangerous in the politicized realm of counterterrorism and in light of the criminalization of members of suspect communities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7-69
Number of pages64
JournalHarvard Human Rights Journal
Publication statusPublished - May 2014


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