Clause 5 - Duty of Director of Public Prosecutions to refer certain matters to Police Ombudsman

Part of Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:30 am on 1st April 2004.

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General 9:30 am, 1st April 2004

I shall be brief. I have found this debate fascinating, because it takes me back to when we were discussing the role that the Northern Ireland police ombudsman is supposed to play. It never crossed my mind that we were creating a police chief to police the police. It always seemed to me that, as the word ''ombudsman'' implies, we were talking about someone who could be a reference point for potential complaints about police conduct. Otherwise, the word ''ombudsman'' is curious, because the ombudsman is not an ombudsman but someone different—he or she is the head of the prosecution authority for the prosecution of police officers in Northern Ireland. We should bear that closely in mind as a general principle when we consider the issues that divide the Committee over the clause.

Of course there must be a dialogue between the DPP and the ombudsman. To that extent, when I first read the clause, it struck me as relatively innocuous

and simply a beefing up of the ombudsman's traditional role. However, the amendment that stands in the name of the hon. Member for South Down would turn it into something different. That begs the question, who carries out prosecuting functions in a country?

I am unhappy about such split prosecution functions. A complaints authority and a public prosecutor are not the same thing, and the Committee should be careful to keep that distinction. That is not to say that the ombudsman does not have an important role, but it does mean that it should be possible for the DPP to conduct public prosecutions. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I do not remember it being suggested that the DPP was unsatisfactory or failed to prosecute police officers. Rather, what was suggested—what seemed to me to have some force—was the fact that the public needed to be reassured that possible misfeasance by police officers was independently investigated. Again, those are not one and the same thing. I shall listen to the Minister with interest, because it is important that we should not start muddling the roles of those two individuals.