Joint Committee On Human Rights Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

68.  Memorandum from the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland

  I write now in response to your letter in relation to the work of my organisation, the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. The answers to the questions which you have posed are as follows:

  1.  The responsibility of my Office is to determine whether police officers may have acted in breach of the criminal law or in breach of the Code of Conduct. Since compliance with human rights law is part of a police officer's duty, it does form one of the criteria by which we assess the conduct of individual officers.

  2.  There is a necessity in policing for compliance with various aspects of human rights law. There is also a necessity in terms of the interaction between police officers and individual citizens of the recognition of the human rights of those with whom the police officer deals. For example, when a police officer is considering the use of a firearm in a particular situation he is required to have regard to the necessity, proportionality and legality of the action which he is about to carry out. It is therefore true to say that these matters do form criteria by reference to which we assess the performance of police officers.

  3.  The way in which we carry out our investigation of a complaint made by a member of the public against a member of the police service is very similar to the way in which any policing organisation investigates an allegation of criminal behaviour. The process is that we will interview the complainant; seek to identify the existence of any relevant evidence; seek to identify witnesses; commission necessary forensic, photographic, medical or other expert evidence; interview the members concerned and any witnesses whom they may wish to identify and then a report will be prepared. In the process of writing this report and in the process of interviewing and of seeking evidence my staff are required to have regard to the requirements of the Police Code of Conduct and of the requirements of human rights law. The Code of Conduct is being replaced by a new Code of Ethics, which has been the subject of extensive consultation and is a human rights based document. The Police Service of Northern Ireland has been at some pains to audit all its policy documents with regard to compliance with requirements of human rights law. In our turn when we are examining the conduct of an officer we will examine the relevant policies. Where we find matters in relation to policy requiring comment we will draw those to the attention of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

  It is not possible for me to send you copies of reports in relation to investigations which have been issued by this Office as there is a statutory prohibition on disclosure of those reports to third parties. However, we are in the process of publishing a public statement on the use of plastic baton rounds and when this is published I will send a copy to you. I also enclose for your information some of our published material.[78]

  4.  We do not maintain records in the two categories to which you refer. It is the responsibility of Mr Tom Constantine, the Oversight Commissioner, to oversee the implementation of the Patten Recommendations on policing in Northern Ireland, many of which relate to human rights requirements and to the establishment of a human rights culture. I am sure that you have already been in contact with Mr Constantine's office. We do, however, identify any situation in which we feel that there is a human rights issue and bring this to the attention of the Police Service.

  5.  In relation to the question of advice and assistance about compliance with human rights we work with the Police Service for Northern Ireland in training and are also involved in a consultative arrangement by which we comment on all proposed policies and we do therefore offer advice and assistance in relation to human rights issues.

  6.  The advice that we offer is proactive on the occasions on which we become aware that there is a human rights issue which requires to be dealt with by the Police Service for Northern Ireland. For example, we became concerned about certain matters relating to the use of firearms and communicated with the Chief Constable in relation to this matter. The consequence of that was that an amended Force Order was issued, which took account of the representations which we had made. In each of the investigations which we carry out, where there is a human rights aspect deriving from a particular complaint against a particular officer we would examine that issue.

  7.  This question is not applicable given the answers to the previous questions.

  The Committee may require some elucidation of the matters dealt with in this response which is brief. I enclose for the information of the Committee a copy of my own Annual Corporate Plan and Statement which is very much a human rights based document and which indicates the way in which we, as an organisation, approach the responsibilities with which we are charged.[79]

16 May 2002

78   Not printed here. Back

79   Not printed here. Back

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