House of Commons - Explanatory Note
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Session 1999-2000
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Police (Northern Ireland) Bill


These notes refer to the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill
as introduced in the House of Commons on 16th May 2000 [Bill 125]

Police (Northern Ireland) Bill




1. These explanatory notes relate to the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill as introduced in the House of Commons on 16th May 2000. They have been prepared by the Northern Ireland Office in order to assist the reader of the Bill and to help inform debate on it. They do not form part of the Bill and have not been endorsed by Parliament.

2. The notes need to be read in conjunction with the Bill. They are not, and are not meant to be, a comprehensive description of the Bill. Where a clause or part of a clause does not seem to require any explanation or comment none is given.


3.     The purpose of the Bill is to implement the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland in its report, "A New Beginning: Policing in Northern Ireland" which have been accepted by the Government following consultation.

4.     The Independent Commission, chaired by ChrisPatten, was set up as part of the Good Friday Agreement and tasked with bringing forward proposals which would produce a police service capable of attracting and sustaining support from across Northern Ireland as a whole.

5.     The Commission's report (the Patten Report) was published on 9 September 1999. In accepting its findings in principle the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland announced a period of consultation as required by the Good Friday Agreement. Formal consultation was completed at the end of November 1999.

6.     On 19 January the Secretary of State made a statement in the House of Commons on the Government's decisions on the Patten Report. Some of those decisions require legislation to take them forward, others are administrative and structural changes.

7.     The main provisions of the Bill are:

  • to provide for a Northern Ireland Policing Board to replace the Police Authority for Northern Ireland;

  • to require district councils to establish district policing partnerships to provide views to the police force and monitor policing in their districts;

  • to make changes to the police planning process and introduce efficiency arrangements;

  • to make changes in respect of the police force including: a new declaration for recruits, a code of ethics for police officers, to provide for registration of the interests and associations of police officers, to enable the Secretary of State to regulate the flags and emblems of the police force and to provide for severance arrangements for police officers;

  • to enable the contracting out of recruitment and for special recruitment measures to the police force and its support staff;

  • to enable the Policing Board to perform its function of holding the police to account through reporting and inquiry arrangements;

  • to provide for the continuance of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and its Reserve as the police service and the police service reserve respectively and to make provision with regard to the name of the police;

  • to repeal and replace large parts of existing legislation covering policing arrangements contained in the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 (the "1998 Act").


8.     The Bill has 8 parts and 7 Schedules.

  • Part I (The Northern Ireland Policing Board) creates the Northern Ireland Policing Board in place of the Police Authority for Northern Ireland and sets out its general functions. Schedule 1 sets out the arrangements for appointments to the Board, whether during suspension of devolved Government or during devolved Government, as well as staffing, funding and procedural issues. The Police Authority's functions, assets, liabilities and staff will transfer to the Board (Schedule 2).

  • Part II (District and Community Policing Arrangements), establishes district policing partnerships, and sets out their functions, and reporting arrangements. Schedule 3 governs appointments and procedural matters for district policing partnerships.

  • Part III (Policing Objectives, Plans and Codes of Practice) provides for the police planning process and defines the roles of the Secretary of State, the Policing Board and the Chief Constable in that process.

  • Part IV (Economy, Efficiency and Effectiveness) introduces measures to require the Policing Board and the Chief Constable to secure continuous improvement in the efficient and effective exercise of their functions.

  • Part V (The Police Force) sets out the general duty of members of the police force and the duties of the Chief Constable. It deals with recruitment to the police force including provisions for contracting out functions and for special arrangements on appointments and severance arrangements. Other significant new provisions include a new declaration to be made by constables, the attestation of constables following recruit training, the registration of interests of police officers, the issue of a code of ethics by the Chief Constable, the issue of guidance by the Secretary of State on public order equipment, a regulation-making power on police flags and emblems and arrangements for co-operation with the Garda Siochana.

  • Part VI (Reports and Inquiries) covers the Policing Board's power to request reports from the Chief Constable on any aspect of policing and to cause an inquiry to be held into any matter in a report if it considers it to be grave or if there are exceptional circumstances.

  • Part VII (Police Ombudsman) principally inserts new provisions in Part VII of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998. It empowers the Ombudsman to report on police policies and practices arising from investigations and creates a regulation making-power for the Secretary of State to impose time limits for complaints.

  • Part VIII (Miscellaneous and Supplementary) includes provision enabling the Secretary of State to establish a Royal Ulster Constabulary GC Foundation to mark the services and sacrifices of the Royal Ulster Constabulary; requiring the video recording of police interviews and amending, as set out in Schedule4, anti-discrimination legislation in its application to the police. This Part also enables the Secretary of State, by order, to make provision about a name for the police service and the police service reserve (which together make up the police force). Schedule 6 (transitional provisions) provides for the continuance of the Royal Ulster Constabulary as the police service and the Royal Ulster Constabulary Reserve as the police service reserve. Schedules 5 and 7 deal with amendments and repeals.



Clause 1: The Northern Ireland Policing Board

9.     This clause provides for the establishment of a Policing Board for Northern Ireland to replace the Police Authority for Northern Ireland. The Police Authority is dissolved on the creation of the Board - (Subsection (3)).

10.     The detail of the Policing Board's status, membership, constitution (including arrangements for appointment under direct rule and devolved government), staff, funding and procedural matters are set out in Schedule 1 to the Bill. These are described more fully in the note on the Schedule. In summary, the Board will have 19 members. During devolved government 10 members will be nominated from the Assembly using the d'Hondt method of selection; the other nine will be appointed by the Secretary of State. During suspension of devolved government all members will be appointed by the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State is required to ensure that the membership of the Board is representative of the community in Northern Ireland.

11.     Subsection (4) and Schedule 2 of the Bill set out matters to deal with the transfer of property, liabilities and staff of the Police Authority to the Board.

Clause 2: General Functions of the Board

12.     These are to maintain the police force and to ensure that police support staff and traffic wardens are efficient and effective.

13.     Under subsection (3) the Board is required to hold the Chief Constable to account for the exercise of his functions and those of the police force, its support staff and traffic wardens. The Board is required to monitor or assess the performance of the police force including in complying with their general duty under the Bill and the Human Rights Act. It is also required to assess the effectiveness of district policing partnerships and community consultation arrangements and to keep itself informed on complaints against the police, crime trends, recruitment to, and the representativeness of, the police force. Subsection (3) also requires the Board to make arrangements for obtaining public co-operation in preventing crime.

14.     Subsection (4) requires the Board to co-ordinate its activities and co-operate with other statutory bodies in carrying out its functions. It also obliges the Board to have regard to the policing plan and any codes of practice issued on the exercise of its functions.

Clause 3: Police Support Staff

15.     This clause sets out the administrative arrangements governing the police support staff. It replaces section 3 of the Police (NI) Act 1998 (the "1998 Act"), with some amendment.

16.     Subsections (1)-(4) enable the Policing Board, with the approval of the Secretary of State, to directly employ staff or second civil servants to assist the police force.

17.     Subsection (5) makes it clear that the Chief Constable is responsible for the management of support staff. This includes the power to engage and dismiss directly recruited staff other than senior employees - where appointment and dismissal will be dealt with by the Board. Seconded civil servants are appointed through the Civil Service Commission for Northern Ireland and may not be dismissed as civil servants by the Chief Constable.

18.     Subsection (6) defines the term "police support staff". It means those staff who are employed by, or seconded to, the Policing Board, and under the direction and control of the Chief Constable. It does not include staff working for the Board itself, they are covered in Part IV of Schedule 1 to the Bill.

19.     These arrangements are much the same as those already applying to police support staff under existing legislation. The main change is that the Board will appoint senior members of the support staff. Senior employees will be under the direction and control of the Chief Constable but the power to engage and dismiss will reside with the Board.

Clause 4: Power to Transfer Staff to Employment of Board

20.     This clause provides a regulation making power by which the Secretary of State may transfer civil servants seconded to the Policing Board and who provide assistance to the police to the employment of the Policing Board. It replaces section 4 of the 1998 Act.

Clause 5: Provision and Maintenance of Buildings and Equipment

21.     This clause replaces section 5 of the 1998 Act with minor amendments which remove some of the Secretary of State's detailed controls. It sets out the Policing Board's duties on the provision and maintenance of buildings and equipment for police purposes.

22.     The Policing Board will be the legal owner of all police buildings and equipment. However subsection (3) requires that the Policing Board's powers to provide and maintain buildings and equipment will be exercised by Chief Constable, who will be responsible for management of these matters. The Board's own buildings and equipment are provided for by Schedule 1 to the Bill.

Clause 6: Acquisition and Disposal of Land

23.     This clause sets out the responsibilities of the Policing Board with regard to acquiring and disposing of land for police purposes. It replaces section 6 of the 1998 Act with some minor amendment which remove the Secretary of State's detailed controls. Under subsections (2)-(3) the Policing Board can acquire land compulsorily by asking the Secretary of State to make an order vesting land in the Board. The Board can acquire land for its own purposes under Schedule 1 to the Bill.

Clause 7: Provision of Advice and Assistance to International Organisations

24.     This clause replaces section 8 of the 1998 Act. It enables the Policing Board, subject to the consent of the Secretary of State, to provide advice and assistance to international organisations, such as the United Nations, and to any organisation outside the UK which is engaged in policing activities. This includes facilitating temporary secondments of members of the police force.

Clauses 8 and 9: Funding Arrangements for the Police Force

25.     Clauses 8 and 9 replace sections 9 and 10 of the 1998 Act respectively. Clause 8 provides for the Secretary of State to make a grant to the Policing Board for policing purposes. Under subsections (1) and (2) of clause 9 the Board is required to prepare the budget for policing on the basis of draft estimates prepared by the Chief Constable. Under subsection (5) of clause 9 the Policing Board is required to put the annual police grant, and any other amounts received, at the disposal of the Chief Constable who is operationally responsible for managing financial resources. Funding arrangements for the Board itself - as opposed to the grant it receives to fund policing - are dealt with under Schedule 1 to the Bill.

Clause 10: Charges for Special Services

26.     This clause enables the Chief Constable to provide special police services. It replaces section 11 of the 1998 Act.

Clause 11: Accounts and Audit

27.     This clause sets out the accounting systems and procedures that are required in respect of police funding. It replaces section 12 of the 1998 Act, with some amendment. The requirement to keep proper accounts and records of the police grant is placed on the Chief Constable on behalf of the Policing Board. Subsection (1) requires the Chief Constable to send a statement of accounts to the Board. Subsection (5) requires the Policing Board to send the statement of accounts to the Secretary of State and the Comptroller and Auditor General for certification.

Clause 12: Rewards for Diligence

28.     This clause replaces section 13 of the 1998 Act and enables the Policing Board to pay rewards for diligence.


Clause 13: Establishment of District Policing Partnerships

29.     This clause places each district council in Northern Ireland under a duty to establish a district policing partnership for its council area and gives effect to Schedule 3 which sets out how each district council should establish a partnership and the arrangements for the conduct of proceedings.

30.     The effect of this clause is to provide for the establishment of up to 26 district policing partnerships. Under paragraph 16 of Schedule 3 the Secretary of State may, by order, provide, with the agreement of the Board and any council affected by the order, that 2 or more district councils can form a joint partnership.

Clause 14: Default of Council

31.     This clause sets out the Secretary of State's powers to direct a district council to establish a district policing partnership where it has not done so or to remedy a defect in a partnership. If the council fails to comply the Secretary of State may, by order, empower the Policing Board to establish a partnership.

Clause 15: General Functions

32.     This clause sets out the functions of a district policing partnership and requires the partnerships to have regard to a code of practice, made by the Board under clause 18, in carrying out these functions.

33.     The role of a district policing partnership is primarily a consultative one. The functions set out in this clause include expressing views to the police; monitoring police performance against the policing plan and the local policing plan; making arrangements to obtain the views of the public on policing and the co-operation of the public with the police; and acting as a general forum for discussion and consultation on the policing of the district.

Clause 16: Annual Report to Council

34.     This clause requires each partnership to submit an annual report on the exercise of its functions to the district council, after consultation with the district commander. The council must publish this report and copy it to the Policing Board.

Clause 17: Reports to Board

35.     This clause requires a partnership to submit a report to the Policing Board on any matter connected with the exercise of the partnership's functions when asked to do so by the Board. The Board may publish such reports.

Clause 18: Code of Practice

36.     This clause provides for the Policing Board to issue, with the Secretary of State's consent and after consulting the district councils and the Chief Constable, a code of practice on the exercise of the functions of the district policing partnership.

37.     The clause sets out areas which the code may cover including arranging meetings with the police and monitoring police performance. The clause requires any code to be published.

Clause 19: Police Districts

38.     This clause requires each district council, other than Belfast, to also be a police district and for the Chief Constable to appoint for each of these a district commander of at least chief inspector rank. For Belfast, given its size, there may be up to 4 police districts.

Clause 20: Local Policing Plan

39.     This clause requires each district commander to publish, after consultation with the district policing partnership, a local policing plan. This will set out arrangements, to be consistent with the policing plan published by the Board, for the policing of the district.

Clause 21: Other Community Policing Arrangements

40.     This clause enables either the district policing partnerships or, in the case of default by a partnership, the Board to make arrangements to facilitate consultation between the police and any local community. The Chief Constable must be consulted before such arrangements are made. The clause provides for consultation at a level below district policing partnerships and recognises the role of the current community and police liaison committees.


Clauses 22 and 23: The Secretary of State's and Board's Policing Objectives

41.     These clauses provide for the setting of strategic objectives for policing and the issuing of the Board's policing plan each year. They replace and simplify the objective setting and planning process set out in Part II of the 1998 Act. Clause 22 requires the Secretary of State to set objectives for policing in Northern Ireland after consulting the Board and Chief Constable. These will be high level objectives. Clause 23 requires the Board to set objectives for policing after consulting with the Chief Constable, district policing partnerships and considering any reports by district policing partnerships or other views raised by members of the community. The Board's objectives must be consistent with those set by the Secretary of State.

Clause 24: The Board's Policing Plan

42.     This clause requires the Board to issue a policing plan before April each year. The plan will be drafted by the Chief Constable and submitted to the Board for its approval and publication. The Board may, after consulting the Chief Constable, amend the draft plan and must consult the Secretary of State before publication.

43.     Under subsection (2) the Secretary of State may set out, in regulations, minimum requirements as to what the policing plan should cover. The matters to be included will be:

  • The Secretary of State's and Board's objectives

  • A strategic element setting out policing priorities for a 3-5 year period

  • An annual element showing priorities for the year

  • Financial resources expected to be available and proposed allocation of those resources by the Board

  • Any performance targets established by the Board

  • Performance plans under clause 26; and

  • An assessment of the training and development needs of police officers and police support staff and particulars of how those requirements are to be met.

Clause 25: Codes of Practice on Exercise of Functions

44.     This clause replaces, with some modifications, section 38 of the 1998 Act. It allows the Secretary of State to issue codes of practice to the Board and, in relation to planning, efficiency, financial and other resources and support staff, to the Chief Constable. The Secretary of State must consult the Board and Chief Constable on any code and must publish it.


Clauses 26-29: Arrangements Relating to Economy, Efficiency and Effectiveness

45.     Clauses 26-29 require the Policing Board and the Chief Constable to make arrangements to improve the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of their functions in accordance with an order made by the Secretary of State. The Board and the Chief Constable will be required to review their functions by an order (clause 26(2)) and to publish a performance plan showing how the Board and the Chief Constable intend to meet their obligation (clause 26(4)). Clause 27 provides for the performance plan to be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General and clause 28 enables the Comptroller and Auditor General to carry out inspections to examine the Board's and the Chief Constable's compliance with their obligation under clause 26. The Comptroller and Auditor General can recommend amendments to a performance plan (clause 27(4)(c)) or that the Secretary of State take action to secure compliance with the Board's or Chief Constable's obligations (clause 27(4)(d) and 28(6)(b)).

46.     Under clause 29, if the Secretary of State is satisfied that the Board or the Chief Constable is failing to comply with their duties under clause 26, he can direct the Board or Chief Constable to take appropriate action. The Secretary of State can also direct that the Policing Board hold an inquiry or direct such an inquiry himself. Clause 29(7) enables Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary to carry out inspections of the Board's or the Chief Constable's compliance with their duties under clause 26. The provisions of Part IV are, in part, analogous to Best Value arrangements which apply to police authorities and forces in England and Wales under the Local Government Act 1999.


Clause 30: General Functions of the Police Force

47.     This clause sets out the general duties and powers of members of the police force. It replaces, with modifications, section 18 of the 1998 Act. Subsection (1) states that the general duties are to protect life and property, preserve order, prevent crime and to bring offenders to justice. Subsection(4) requires officers to have regard to the code of ethics issued by the Chief Constable under clause 48 in carrying out their duties. Subsection (5) requires police officers to carry out those duties with the aim of securing the participation and support of the local community.

Clause 31: General Functions of the Chief Constable

48.     This clause replaces section 19 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998. It provides that the police force shall be under the direction and control of the Chief Constable and that he shall have regard to the policing plan and any code of practice affecting him.

Clause 32: Exercise of Functions of the Chief Constable in Cases of Absence etc

49.     Clause 32 replaces section 20 of the 1998 Act with modification. It provides for there to be a Deputy Chief Constable and for the DCC to carry out the Chief Constable's functions in his absence.

Clause 33: Appointment and Removal of Senior Officers of the Police Force

50.     This clause replaces section 21 of the 1998 Act and provides for the Board to appoint the Chief Constable and other senior police officers (Assistant Chief Constable and above), subject to the approval of the Secretary of State. Subsection(3) enables the Board to call upon any senior officer to retire in the interests of efficiency and effectiveness with the approval of the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State can require the Board to exercise this power in respect of the Chief Constable.

Clause 34, 35 and 37-39: Appointment to the Police Force

51.     These clauses make provision for the appointment of police officers. The Chief Constable will continue to appoint and promote all police officers below the rank of Assistant Chief Constable (clause 34) and reserve officers (clause 35). Clauses 37, 38 and 39 deal with a new category of "trainee" police officers. The creation of trainees is a consequence of the Patten Report's recommendation that recruits to the police force should be attested as constables - and, therefore, acquire the powers of a constable - only upon successful completion of their recruit training. Under previous legislation (section 24 of the 1998 Act) recruits became constables immediately upon appointment before they had undertaken any training as a police officer. Subsection (2) of clause 34 requires that no one may be appointed as a constable unless they have completed recruit training. Clause 39 outlines a number of conditions which apply to police officers, such as the Chief Constable's liability for wrongful acts and the prohibition on membership of trade unions to trainees, and enables the Secretary of State to make regulations for the terms and conditions of trainee officers.

Clause 36: Attestation of Constables

52.     Clause 36 provides for a new form of the declaration made by recruits on appointment to the police force. The clause replaces section 24 and Schedule 2 of the 1998 Act. The new declaration contains references to upholding human rights and according equal respect to all individuals. As under the 1998 Act recruits assume the powers of a constable upon making the declaration but new provisions (see above) require that they successfully complete their training first.

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