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|Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords]|
THESE NOTES REFER TO THE POLICE (NORTHERN IRELAND) BILL [LORDS]
POLICE (NORTHERN IRELAND) BILL [LORDS]
1. These explanatory notes relate to the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill brought from the House of Lords on 30 January 2003. 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. So where a clause or part of a clause does not seem to require any explanation or comment, none is given. A glossary of abbreviations and terms used in these explanatory notes is contained in the annex to the notes.
3. The purpose of the Bill is to implement more fully the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland, set out in its report "A New Beginning: Policing in Northern Ireland" (also known as the Patten report) which was published in September 1999. The Bill's contents cover commitments made in the updated Implementation Plan for the Patten report, published in August 2001, and matters arising from the 2002 review of policing reform in Northern Ireland. Many of the clauses in the Bill amend the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (c.32) ("the 2000 Act") which was the main implementing legislation for the recommendations of the Patten report. The Bill also makes provision for giving limited police powers to police support staff and to the staff of external contractors, in line with recent legislation in England and Wales (the Police Reform Act 2002 (c. 30)), in order to make more effective use of these staff.
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4. The main provisions of the Bill are:
5. The Act has three Parts and three Schedules:
COMMENTARY ON CLAUSES
PART 1: POLICING
THE NORTHERN IRELAND POLICING BOARD
Clause 1: Consultation with Board
6. This clause deals with consultation with the Board. It amends sections 24 and 27 of the 2000 Act, which require the Secretary of State to consult the Board before determining or revising long term policing objectives, and before issuing or revising codes of practice on the exercise of the functions of the Board or the Chief Constable. Subsections (1) and (2) amend these provisions to provide that the Secretary of State must consult the Board with a view to reaching agreement on any proposed new or revised objectives or code of practice. The arrangements for consulting the Chief Constable and any other persons under sections 24 and 27 remain unchanged.
Clause 2: Board's policing objectives
7. This clause amends section 25 of the 2000 Act. The current requirement under section 25 is that the Board frame its policing objectives so as to be consistent with the Secretary of State's long term policing objectives for Northern Ireland set under section 24 of the 2000 Act. The effect of the amendment is that, in determining its objectives for the policing of Northern Ireland, the Board must take account of, rather than be consistent with, the Secretary of State's long term objectives under section 24 of the 2000 Act.
Clause 3: Public meetings of the Board
8. This clause amends Schedule 1 to the 2000 Act to provide that the Board must hold eight public meetings a year, rather than ten as currently required by paragraph 19(2) of Schedule 1 to the 2000 Act. The clause also removes the current requirement (paragraph 19(3) of Schedule 1 to the 2000 Act) that those meetings should be held at least 28 days apart.
Clause 4: Contracts relating to detention and escort services
9. Clause 4 amends the 2000 Act to enable the Board to enter into a contract for the provision of services relating to the detention or escort of persons who have been arrested or are otherwise in custody. The Chief Constable will then be in a position to designate any person who is an employee of the contractor, as either a detention officer or an escort officer (clause 24).
Clause 5: Funding for pension purposes
10. This clause amends sections 9, 10, 27 and 77 of the 2000 Act. The object of the amendment is to split off funding which relates to the Police Service of Northern Ireland Pension Scheme from other Board funding. This is a necessary first step if the Board is to be required to draw up separate accounts for pension funding, and for other police funding. If separate pension funding accounts are prepared, the requirements of the new accounting standard FRS 17 Retirement Benefits (which oblige pension scheme accounts to set out in full the scheme's assets and liabilities) will apply only to these, and not to the accounts relating to general police funding. The objective is to prevent the detail required by FRS 17 from overshadowing and drawing attention away from the record of the police's core financial performance.
11. Subsection (2) amends section 9 of the 2000 Act to provide that separate grants will be made to the Board by the Secretary of State for pension purposes and for all other purposes. Subsections (8) and (9) oblige the Board to place the amounts of each grant, plus any other relevant amounts received by it, at the disposal of the Chief Constable.
12. Subsections (3), (5) to (7) and (10) make consequential amendments to the 2000 Act. Subsection (11) inserts a definition of "pension purposes".
13. Subsection (12) provides that the new arrangements will have effect from the financial year 2003/04.
Clause 6: Accounts and audit
14. This clause amends section 12 of the 2000 Act, relating to accounts and audit.
15. The amendments require the Board to draw up separate accounts for each of the amounts placed at the Chief Constable's disposal for pension and non-pension purposes, and for any amount the Board pays into the Police Fund (provided for in section 28 of the 1998 Act) and into the Police Property Fund (established by the Police (Disposal of Property) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1974, made under section 2 of the Police (Property) Act 1897).
16. Subsection (8) provides that the new arrangements will have effect from the financial year 2003/04.
Clause 7: Performance summaries
17. This clause amends section 28 of the 2000 Act, to provide the Board with two options for publishing its assessment of the police performance against efficiency targets. At present, the 2000 Act provides that the Board must publish three documents:
18. Subsection (2) amends section 28(5)(c) of the 2002 Act. It removes the current requirement that the retrospective summary of performance against targets (to be known as the "performance summary") form part of the performance plan. Instead, subsection (3) gives the Board discretion to publish the performance summary with the annual report, or with the performance plan.
19. Subsections (4) and (5) make consequential amendments.
20. Subsection (6) provides that the new arrangements will have effect from the financial year 2003/04.
Clause 8: Performance summaries: supplementary
21. This clause makes consequential amendments to sections 29 and 31 of the 2000 Act, relating to audit and reporting arrangements, and arising from the amendments set out in clause 7.
22. The effect of the amendments is that the arrangements that currently apply to the audit of a performance summary comprised in a performance plan, and to any report on a performance summary, will continue to apply to a performance summary even though it will not necessarily be published with a performance plan.
23. Subsection (9) provides that the new arrangements will have effect from the financial year 2003/04.
REPORTS AND INQUIRIES
Clause 9: Reports of the Chief Constable
24. This clause amends section 59 of the 2000 Act, which deals with the Chief Constable's general duty to report to the Board. Section 59 currently requires the Chief Constable to submit a report whenever required to do so by the Board. However, where the Chief Constable considers that his report would contain information which ought not to be disclosed on any of the four grounds currently listed in section 59(3)(a) to (d), he may refer to the Secretary of State the requirement to submit a report.
25. Subsection (2) amends section 59(3) by deleting the existing list of grounds at section 59(3)(a) to (d), and stating instead that the Chief Constable may refer to the Secretary of State a requirement that he submit a report if any of the conditions set out in the new section 76A are satisfied. These new conditions amend the grounds set out in the existing section 59(3)(a) to (d), and are explained in the notes on clause 22 below.
26. Subsections (3) and (4) amend section 59 of the Act. Their effect is to allow the Secretary of State to direct the Chief Constable to supply information to a special committee of the Board, where it appears that this information satisfies any of the conditions set out in the new section 76A. (Clause 21 deals with the establishment of the committee.) These subsections also permit the Chief Constable to choose to supply information to the committee rather than the Board, where in his view it would satisfy any of the conditions set out in the new section 76A, or would, if disclosed, be likely to put an individual in danger. Alternatively the Chief Constable may choose to supply information of this type to the Board. If the Chief Constable chooses to supply information of this type to the committee, he must provide a summary of it to the Board. Whether information of this type is supplied to the committee or to the Board, the Chief Constable must also tell the Secretary of State that it has been supplied, and tell the recipient that it falls within section 76A, or is likely if disclosed to put an individual in danger.
27. Subsection (5) makes transitional arrangements. The effect of these is that the new provisions apply if the Chief Constable has received a requirement to submit a report, and either has not referred the requirement to the Secretary of State, or has done so but the Secretary of State has not made a decision, before Royal Assent to the Bill.
Clause 10: Inquiries by the Board
28. This clause amends section 60 of the 2000 Act, which deals with the initiation of an inquiry by the Board following a report to it by the Chief Constable. Currently, section 60(3) of the 2000 Act provides that where the Chief Constable considers that an inquiry should not be held on any of the four grounds listed in section 60(3), he may refer the Board's decision to hold an inquiry to the Secretary of State.
29. Subsection (2) deletes the list of grounds set out in section 60(3). It provides that instead the Chief Constable may refer the decision to the Secretary of State if he considers that an inquiry should not be held on any of the grounds listed in the new section 76A(2). Subsection (4) provides that, where the Chief Constable supplies sensitive information to a person conducting an inquiry under section 60, he must notify the Secretary of State, the Board and the person conducting the inquiry that the information is sensitive,. He must also notify the Board and the Secretary of State that the information has been passed to the person conducting the inquiry. (Sensitive information is defined in the new section 60 (10A) as inserted by clause 10(3A)).
Clause 11: Approval of proposals relating to inquiries by the Board
30. This clause amends paragraph 18 of Schedule 1 to the 2000 Act, which applies to inquiries held under section 60 following a report by the Chief Constable. Paragraph 18(5) presently provides that the Board shall not set in motion an inquiry under section 60, or request or appoint a person to conduct such an inquiry, unless a proposal to take this step has been approved by the "required number" of members. The required number of members is detailed in paragraph 18(6), and varies according to the number of members composing the Board. Subsection (2) imposes an additional requirement for Board approval in these circumstances, namely that the proposal must also be approved by a majority of the members present and voting. Subsection (3) reduces the "required number of members" as set out in paragraph 18(6) so that, for example, whereas the present required number of members is 10 if the Board has 18 or 19 members, the new required number will be 8. Subsection (4) provides that the new provisions have effect in relation to any Board meeting held under paragraph 18 of Schedule 1 to the 2000 Act on or after the day on which the Bill receives the Royal Assent.
THE POLICE OMBUDSMAN
Clause 12: Investigations into current police practices and procedures by the Ombudsman
31. Section 51 of the 1998 Act established the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland ("the Ombudsman"). Clause 12 provides for investigations by the Ombudsman into current police practices and policies by inserting a new section 60A into the 1998 Act. It replaces with modifications the current provision in section 61A of the 1998 Act (as inserted by section 63 of the 2000 Act), which provides for the Ombudsman to make reports to the Chief Constable and the Board on matters concerning police practices and policies.
32. The new section 60A provides that the Ombudsman may investigate a current practice or policy of the police that has come to his attention if he has reason to believe that such an investigation would be in the public interest (section 60A(1)), except to the extent that the practice or policy is concerned with conduct within section 65(5) of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. If he decides to conduct an investigation under section 60A, he must immediately inform the Chief Constable, the Board and the Secretary of State of this (section 60A(3)) and of his reasons for this decision. He must provide the Chief Constable and the Board with a copy of his investigation report (section 60A (4)). A copy of the report must also be sent to the Secretary of State if the investigation touches on excepted matters (as defined in section 4 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (c.47)) or matters for which the Secretary of State has a statutory responsibility (section 60A(5)).
33. Clause 12(3) makes a consequential amendment to 63(2A) of the 1998 Act. That subsection, which was inserted into the 1998 Act by section 63(2) of the 2000 Act, provides an exemption from the restriction on disclosure of information in section 63 of the 1998 Act, so as to allow the Ombudsman to disclose information relating to the identity of an individual in a report under section 61A where he considers it necessary to do so in the public interest. The effect of clause 12(3) is to modify this provision so as to apply the exemption to the Ombudsman's report of an investigation under the new section 60A.
34. Clause 12(4) amends section 66 of the 2000 Act, which provides that the Chief Constable and the Board shall supply the Ombudsman with such information and documents as he may require for the purpose of exercising his functions. Clause 12(4) inserts new subsections (2) to (4) into section 66. These require the Chief Constable, or the Board, if supplying any sensitive information to the Ombudsman, to identify it as such to the Secretary of State and the Ombudsman, and to notify the Secretary of State that it has been passed to the Ombudsman. (Sensitive information is that of a kind listed in the new section 66(4) as inserted by clause 12(4)).
DISTRICT POLICING PARTNERSHIPS
35. Clauses 13, 14 and 15 make amendments to Schedule 3 to the 2000 Act, which makes provision regarding district policing partnerships ("DPPs"). Section 14(1) of the 2000 Act requires each district council to establish a DPP, which has the functions set out in section 16 of the 2000 Act. Paragraph 2 of Schedule 3 provides for DPPs to be composed of members of the council ("political members") and of independent members.
Clause 13: Independent members
36. This clause amends paragraph 4 of Schedule 3 to the 2000 Act so as to provide that the Board (which appoints independent members from among persons nominated by the district council) shall, so far as practicable, ensure that the independent members of a DPP taken together are representative of the community in the district.
Clause 14: Disqualification
37. Paragraph 7(1) of Schedule 3 of the 2000 Act sets out various circumstances in which the Board, or a district council with the Board's approval, may remove a person from office as a member of a DPP (e.g. conviction of a criminal offence; bankruptcy). Clause 14 amends paragraph 8 of Schedule 3 to the 2000 Act to provide that someone removed from a DPP under paragraph 7(1) is disqualified from reappointment until the next local general election. This is a new disqualification which brings the arrangement for DPP membership in line with that already in place for membership of the Board.
Clause 15: Council's powers
38. This clause inserts two new paragraphs into Schedule 3 to the 2000 Act. The effect is to give district councils power to insure against accidents to a member of a DPP while engaged on DPP business, and to indemnify a member of a DPP for liability incurred in relation to DPP business. These provisions will apply retrospectively.
POLICE FUNCTIONS AND APPOINTMENTS
Clause 16: Core policing principles
39. Subsection (1) inserts a new section 31A in the 2000 Act and sets out what are considered to be core policing principles. It provides that police officers must carry out their functions with the aim of securing the support of the local community, and of co-operating with the local community. They must also be guided by the code of ethics issued by the Board under section 52 of the 2000 Act. This requirement is not new: it currently appears in section 32(4) of the 2000 Act, but as it affects the way the police carry out their other functions, it sits more easily in the new section 31A. Subsection (4) makes consequential amendments.
40. Subsection (2) amends section 3 of the 2000 Act. It obliges the Board, in addition to its other duties, to monitor the performance of the police in complying with the community policing core principles set out in new section 31A(1). Subsection (3) obliges the Board to include an assessment of the performance of the police in this respect in its annual report. Subsection (5) amends section 27 of the 1998 Act which deals with PSNI members on secondment or "relevant service" to other police services, so that a member of the PSNI on relevant service shall be treated for the purposes of new section 31A as if he were still a member of the PSNI.
Clause 17: Chief Constable's functions
41. Clause 17 deals with the Chief Constable's functions, and amends section 33 of the 2000 Act. It provides (as at present) that the Chief Constable shall have regard, in carrying out his functions, both to the policing plan and to any code of practice issued under section 27 of the 2000 Act. However, the clause inserts a new provision to the effect that the Chief Constable's duty to have regard to the code of practice applies only so far as consistent with his duty to have regard to the policing plan.
Clause 18: Provision of information to the Board
42. This clause inserts a new section 33A into the 2000 Act. The new section places a general obligation on the Chief Constable to supply the Board with whatever information it may require in order to carry out its functions, except where it appears to him that the information ought not to be disclosed on any of the grounds in the new section 76A(1). (See notes on clause 22 below.) Subsections (3) and (4) provide that where the Chief Constable is of the opinion that the disclosure of this information would be likely to put an individual in danger, the information may instead be supplied to the committee set up by the Board under paragraph 24(1A) of Schedule 1, provided for by the new clause 21 below. Subsection (6) provides that, where information of a sensitive nature (as defined by the new section 33A(5)), has been supplied to the Board or its committee, the Secretary of State must be informed that the information has been supplied. In addition, both the Secretary of State and the recipient of the information must be notified of its sensitive nature.
Clause 19: Fixed-term appointments
43. Clause 19 makes provision for fixed term appointments to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Subsection (1) inserts a new section 36A into the 2000 Act, which permits the Chief Constable to appoint someone to the PSNI for a fixed term of up to three years (new section 36A(1)). The Chief Constable may not appoint anyone under this provision to the rank of constable or to the rank of a senior officer (new section 36A(3)). The Secretary of State is given the power to modify by order the provisions of Northern Ireland policing legislation (the 1998 Act and the 2000 Act) as they apply to people appointed through this route, where that is considered appropriate. However, before making such an order, the Secretary of State is obliged to consult the Board and the Police Association. Subsection (2) makes a consequential amendment to section 25(6) of the 1998 Act, which relates to regulations as to conditions of service of members of the PSNI .
INFORMATION AND INQUIRIES
Clause 20: Restriction on disclosure of information
44. This clause inserts a new section 74A into the 2000 Act. Section 74A sets out guidelines for the disclosure of information provided by the Chief Constable to the Board, or to the committee constituted by the Board, or to a person appointed under section 60(9) of that Act to conduct an inquiry. These apply where the Chief Constable has notified the recipient that the information is of a sensitive nature, as defined in the new sections 59(4C), 60(10A) and 33A(5) of the 2000 Act, inserted by clauses 9(4), 10(4) and 18 of the Bill. Subsection (7) provides that any person disclosing information in contravention of section 74A shall be guilty of an offence and sets out the relevant sanctions.
Clause 21: Special committee of the Board
45. This clause amends paragraph 24 of Schedule 1 to the 2000 Act. It obliges the Board to establish a special committee to handle, in particular, sensitive information supplied to it by the Chief Constable under section 33A or 59 of that Act. The clause provides that the committee should be constituted of 5 members of the Board, including either the chairman or the vice-chairman (or both of them) and that it should, as far as practicable, be representative of the Board.
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