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 John Spellar John Spellar The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office 9:30 am, 1st April 2004

That point has some value and I shall allude to it further.

Amendments Nos. 34 and 35 would require the DPP to refer cases to the police ombudsman only where a police officer had committed a crime—or, perhaps more accurately, had been convicted of one. That goes some way from what the criminal justice review envisaged, as the hon. Member for South Down said. Recommendation 21 said that a duty should be placed on the prosecutor to ensure that any allegations of police malpractice be fully investigated. These amendments would constrain what the DPP would or could refer to the police ombudsman. They would undermine the proper effect of the clause, which is to ensure that suspicions about police behaviour are passed to the proper person for investigation.

The right hon. Member for Upper Bann, who tabled the amendment, may be concerned that, if not amended, the clause will cause cases to be passed to the police ombudsman before the DPP has made a judgment on whether a prosecution should commence. That is to misunderstand the purpose and effect of the clause. As drafted, the provision sensibly delineates the respective roles of the DPP and the police ombudsman by ensuring that any decisions taken on the conduct of the police are made by the appropriate authority, which is the police ombudsman. Likewise, nothing in the clause interferes with the responsibility of the DPP to make decisions regarding prosecutions.

The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) also misunderstood the position to some extent when he talked about article 6(3) of the 1972 order. That order concerns prosecutions of investigated cases, whereas we are talking about investigating suspected misconduct. That deals with the respective roles of the ombudsman and the DPP.

The clause requires the DPP to pass to the ombudsman any indications that he finds in the files

in front of him that police malpractice may have occurred. It would then be for the ombudsman to take the matter forward. The DPP is not under an obligation to refer matters that he understands the police ombudsman is already aware of. That is likely to include most, if not all, cases of police officers being charged with a criminal offence. It is therefore most unlikely that the DPP would pass matters to the ombudsman that relate to the substance of the cases he is looking at. It is more likely that the provision would bite when, as the DPP considers a file on a completely unrelated matter, the behaviour of a police officer raises questions.