Police (Northern Ireland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:00 pm on 8th November 2000.

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Photo of Lord Rogan Lord Rogan UUP 10:00 pm, 8th November 2000

My Lords, like the current police authority, the policing board will have a statutory duty to keep itself informed about the workings of the police complaints and disciplinary system. Amendment No. 71 certainly does not seek to erode the independence of the ombudsman or question the validity or integrity of the new police complaints system in Northern Ireland. The amendment is an attempt to rectify some flaws in the Bill.

The police authority currently has access to a wide range of information, including completed files on cases of complaint, in order to carry out its duty. According to Clause 64, the only information that the ombudsman must supply is statistical. There is no obligation to supply any other material--for example, completed case files. That will create an anomaly whereby Northern Ireland will be treated differently from England and Wales, where police authorities receive information from the forces that they oversee. In Northern Ireland, however, with the change in the complaints system, all police complaints will be dealt with by the police ombudsman, unlike in England and Wales, where only the more serious cases are referred to the Police Complaints Authority. The supply of information will, therefore, be at the discretion of the ombudsman.

Although it is established custom and practice in Great Britain that police authorities are provided with complaints files, I believe it is preferable if the Bill contains a requirement to provide information. If the board is to be a strong independent body in its own right, it is unhelpful if it must rely on the discretion of the ombudsman to provide the information that it needs to do its job effectively.

Furthermore, one of the statutory duties of the new board is to ensure police compliance with the Human Rights Act. It will be unable to perform that function if it is entitled to receive only statistical information about complaints. Access to a broader range of information is, therefore, required. For example, what would happen if the board requested information other than statistics and the ombudsman refused to provide it? Such a turn of events, especially if made public, would hardly help to build confidence in the transparency and accountability of policing in Northern Ireland. For the reasons briefly outlined, I urge noble Lords to support the amendment. I beg to move.