Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Mrs. Nuala O'Loan
Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland -

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The Role of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland


1. The Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (the Office) was established on 6 November 2000 under Part VII of the Police (NI) Act 1998. It did not emerge from the Report of the Independent Commission on Policing (Patten Report) or the Good Friday Agreement. It was the product of a Report compiled by Dr Maurice Hayes on “A New Police Complaints System for Northern Ireland.” The primary statutory duty of the Police Ombudsman is to establish an efficient, effective and independent complaints system, and secure the confidence of the public and of the police in that system. The remit of the Police Ombudsman covers the PSNI, and 4 other minor policing services. This Statement provides a brief outline of the work of the Office, and the published documents referred to have been provided simultaneously to the Commission.


2. The Police Ombudsman, Mrs Nuala O’Loan took up Office in designate role in April 2000. Appointed by Royal Warrant she led a Project Team which secured premises, recruited and trained staff, developed transitional processes from the old to the new, consulted with the public and police and their needs of the system and agreed a financial structure.

3. Prior to the establishment of the Office, public complaints had been investigated by police, supervised in some 10% of cases, by the Independent Commission for Police Complaints (ICPC). The ICPC ceased to exist on 6 November 2000. 14 staff were transferred to the Office, along with liabilities, assets and a caseload of 2124 cases.

4. On 6 November 2000, the legislation creating the Office came into effect with all its consequential duties and responsibilities.


The Police Ombudsman’s Office

5. The Office is in Belfast, in a central and neutral location with on street car-parking. For security, efficiency and financial reasons it was decided to have only one base. A 24 hour, 365 days a year “on call” investigation and public information facility is provided. The Office is open during normal working hours and complainants are seen with or without appointment. To facilitate maximum outreach, arrangements were made with a number of organisations, such as the Citizens Advice Bureau, the Chinese Welfare Association and Northern Ireland Women’s Aid Federation for the use of rooms in their premises across Northern Ireland. This meant that the Police Ombudsman could meet complainants in a variety of locations throughout Northern Ireland. In addition to this, these arrangements provide for the needs of vulnerable complainants in places in which they feel safe and in which their special needs can be accommodated.

Budget

6. The budget is provided by HM Government through the Northern Ireland Office and in
the current year it amounts to £7,370,000. Two Annual Reports have been published to date – the first covers the period from November 2000 to March 2002, the second covers the period from April 2002 to March 2003. These Reports contain detailed financial information.


Staffing and Processes

7. There are currently 123 staff in the Office. A census of staff in May 2003 established that 42% were Protestant, 34% were Catholic, 16% were no religion and 8% other. All staff are required to disclose any membership of any organisation which may be perceived to impact on their ability to deliver an independent and impartial service. They are also required to report immediately any conflict of interest which may arise during the course of their employment.

8. The Office has a Corporate Management Team, consisting of the Police Ombudsman, the Chief Executive and the Executive Director of Investigations. There is then a Senior Management Team which also includes the Directors of the four Directorates – Corporate Services, Investigations, Legal Services and Policy and Practice. Approximately 75% of the staff work directly on complaints and investigations. The remainder provide corporate and other support in terms of finance, administration, personnel and procurement; provide the media and information service, deliver legal advice, carry out quality assurance, conduct policy and practice research and development work. The research work also embraces all forms of statistical analysis of trends and patterns in complaints.

9. Among the 123 staff are 16 seconded police officers working as Investigators from various Police Services in England and Wales. Among the other Investigators are those who served formerly with police services such as the Hong Kong Police, The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the South African Police Service, The Metropolitan Police Service, London and other investigative agencies such as HM Customs and Excise. The Office has also recruited Assistant Investigators from a variety of backgrounds. The directly appointed staff work alongside the experienced investigators, gaining valuable experience to meet the needs of the Office for the future. The seconding of officers from outside Northern Ireland also recognises the need to import best practice, and the need to acquire special investigative expertise as required.

10. Training for staff has been regarded as of the utmost importance since the Office opened. An extensive range of training opportunities has been provided. Most recently, in partnership with the University of Portsmouth, the Office has introduced an extensive university-provided Accredited Training Programme for its investigative staff.

11. The Office established and adapted its working processes over the period, to accommodate legislative and other changes. These have included the important area of financial rectitude and world-wide best practice in complaint handling and investigation. During the three years of its existence the Office has been the subject of some fifteen legislative changes.

12. The Police Ombudsman observes all relevant international principles and standards on policing and human rights. Most recently a draft Code of Ethics for all Office staff, to augment the existing Code of Conduct has been made available for consultation. As required by law an Equality Scheme was produced to the Equality Commission and the first Impact Assessment on two Office policies (equal opportunities and fairness) has been carried out. An extremely encouraging response was received from staff about their experience of working in the Office.

13. The Office has developed a programme of quality assurance in respect of the work of the Investigation Directorate and 10 further quality assurance exercises are planned for 2004-2005.

Independence

14. The independence of the Office is crucial to confidence in the new system. It has been demonstrated consistently by the Police Ombudsman and her staff. The Police Ombudsman’s budget is not part of the PSNI budget. Staff are recruited, employed and managed only by the Office. Investigations are evidence driven and the Police Ombudsman has been open and transparent in publicly reporting outcomes of investigation. The Police Ombudsman is demonstrably apolitical. For the past two years, in independent survey, 86% of the public have stated that they believe the Office is independent.

15. Investigations are normally conducted entirely independently of the PSNI, but there are circumstances in which both organisations must work together or in parallel. A joint forensic strategy is formulated in such cases, and the results of the forensic recovery are shared as necessary. In a protocol with the PSNI it has been agreed that the agency investigating the most serious incident takes precedence. This protocol has been invoked regularly and has worked well. For example, a recent police car pursuit of a vehicle ended in a fatal accident between the car being followed and another vehicle, in which three innocent people were killed. The Police Ombudsman had to investigate whether the police had contributed to the fatal road traffic accident, and the police had to investigate causing death by dangerous driving. On that occasion the PSNI took precedence. More recently following two shootings, one of them fatal, by police, the Police Ombudsman had priority and the police took the secondary role in their investigation of alleged crime. Investigators of the Office also work very closely with Internal Investigations Branch (IIB) of the PSNI. The working relationship is very good.


Engaging with the Public

16. The new police complaints service exists for the people and the police. Great care has been taken from the very beginning to engage the public in the development of the Office, and to try and ensure that the service provided met, and continues to meet, their needs.

17. It is vital too that people would know that the service is there for them when they need to complain about the police. Great effort has been made by all staff to contribute to public understanding of the Office. The Public Information Department manage the process. A step-by-step guide to the new police complaints process was produced in a booklet in “Plain English” form which is available across Northern Ireland. Other similar documents have also been developed. Details of the complaints system are available for people with disabilities through the web site www.policeombudsman.org, which conforms to the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, and are available on audio-tape for people with sight difficulties. The web site also carries translations of the complaints process in Mandarin, Irish and Ulster Scots.

18. In Spring 2001 a magazine entitled “Early Days” was published. This gave details of the office, its structures, work and processes and explained what would happen on receipt of a complaint. It was distributed to the public and to advice giving agencies.

19. Annual Reports were published in July 2002 and July 2003. Corporate Plans and Annual Business Plans were published in 2001, 2002 and 2003. In November 2003, a summary of the Second Annual Report was produced in a magazine format and distributed as a supplement in Northern Ireland’s evening newspaper, which has a circulation of 110,000.

20. Also available on the web site are Statements, under Section 62 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998, reporting on major investigations, including those into circumstances surrounding the death of Mr Samuel Devenny and of Mr Sean Brown. Mr Samuel Devenny died in Derry in 1969, three months after police pursuing rioters entered his home and carried out a terrible attack on Mr Devenny and some of his children. Mr Sean Brown was murdered by Loyalists in 1997 and his family complained in 2001 that there had not been a proper investigation into his murder. The results of those investigations are reported on the web site. There are also reports of many investigations carried out after a referral from the Chief Constable or the Policing Board. Press releases and published documents are all available on the web site. The Office is determined to put as much information as possible into the public domain, so as to secure maximum transparency. More information on the police complaints system and the outcomes of its work is available on the Office web site than has previously been made available across the world.

21. Regional information about the police complaints process, and statistics applicable to particular areas, have been made available in a simple format on the web site. This initiative attracted more than 5,000 visitors to the site following its launch in January 2004.

22. Between 2002-2004 staff have visited more than 70 community groups and organisations. This has involved visits to areas in which there is interface conflict across the political divide, including ‘Short Strand’ and ‘Tigers Bay’ in Belfast, Ardoyne and Glenbryn in Belfast, and the Creggan and Waterside areas of Derry/ Londonderry.

23. Good working relationships have been formed with Government and Non Governmental Organisations, including the Equality Commission, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the NIO Community Safety Unit, The Committee for the Administration of Justice and the Pat Finucane Centre, and with victims organisations such as FAIR, FACT and WAVE.

24. During 2003, the Office gave presentations to 15 of the newly formed District Policing Partnerships, whose role is to monitor police delivery of services in their area and to consult with the police in relation to matters arising.

25. Increasing awareness and understanding among young people is a constant priority. 29 schools across the state, maintained and integrated sectors have been visited during 2003. The Office has also joined PSNI in several youth-related projects, a number of conferences, and the provision of information about the police complaints process for the ‘Citizenship and Safety Key Stage Four’ textbook. In conjunction with the Children’s Law Centre, a leaflet on ‘Young People and The Police’ has been developed.

26. The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) has carried out independent research, measuring the awareness and confidence of the public in this new institution over the three years. The most recent research demonstrates that 88% of Protestants and 82% of Catholics felt the Police Ombudsman was independent of police. 79% of Catholics and 70% of Protestants were either confident or fairly confident about the impartial nature of the Office when investigating complaints against police. 85% of Catholics and 73% of Protestants thought that the Police Ombudsman would “help the police do a good job”. 65% of Catholics and 63% of Protestants thought that the complainant and the police officer would be treated equally. These figures have continued to rise over the three years from 2000-2003. Awareness levels are now at 86%. Belief in the independence of the office is also at 86%.

27. An interesting example of growing acceptance of the independence and impartiality of the Police Ombudsman occurred in March 2002. A dead baby girl was found in Carryduff near Belfast. The baby was named Baby Carrie and police were anxious to find her mother as there were concerns about her. Police wanted to conduct DNA sampling of women in the area to compare with Baby Carrie’s DNA. Suspicion and resistance emerged in the community about what might be done with the DNA samples. The Police Ombudsman was asked by the PSNI to oversee the destruction of the samples and all associated documentation, and provide reassurance to the public. She agreed to do so, and staff ensured that every sample and record was destroyed. Women then co-operated with the process and when it was completed a statement was issued by the Police Ombudsman confirming that every sample taken and all associated records had been destroyed.


Engaging with the Police

28. Significant effort has gone into developing constructive operational arrangements with the PSNI. Processes have evolved covering a very wide range of issues, all of which have been designed to allow maximum operational efficiency for the PSNI and effective independent impartial investigation by the Office.

29. The Police Staff Associations were consulted extensively and were engaged in the creation of the Office. The Office must, in so far as it is possible, ensure that officer needs are recognised and cared for. This, with professional investigation, is vital to secure the confidence of the police in the system.

30. All of the publications referred to in the previous section are available to police officers. A special booklet has been published explaining officers’ rights, duties and responsibilities under the police complaints system. A copy has been sent to each serving officer. Recognising, from the earliest days, the need to communicate effectively with PSNI and in particular with IIB of PSNI, and also with the Police Staff Associations, staff of the Office have made hundreds of presentations, for training and information purposes, to PSNI officers and recruits. Meetings with all parties take place on a regular basis. On the one hand the Police Ombudsman needed to articulate clearly the independence of her Office, yet on the other hand, close working relationships have been and remain vital to the effective functioning of both organisations.

31. Arrangements have been made with the Chief Constable with regard to mandatory immediate referral of deaths which may have resulted from the conduct of a police officer, and also in relation to immediate referral of other serious matters, in particular the firing of baton rounds, or live fire, and any situation involving a serious injury or allegation of a sexual offence.


Working within the Criminal Justice System

32. The Northern Ireland Policing Board (NIPB) was established on 4 November 2002. The Office has sought to work constructively with the NIPB, and has carried out one investigation referred by the NIPB, involving an allegation that the current Chief Constable acted under the influence of the Security Service (MI5) in taking action against an officer alleged to have acted wrongly. That rigorous investigation found no misconduct by the Chief Constable and clarified misinformation which had been placed in the public domain.

33. The Police Ombudsman has also forged good working relationships with the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Forensic Science Agency, HM Coroners, the Criminal Justice Inspector, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, the Surveillance Commissioner, the Justice Oversight Commissioner, the Social Services Boards and Trusts and more recently with the Commissioner for Children and Young People. This has ensured that obligations are complied with, whilst the independence of the Police Ombudsman is preserved in the interactions with the relevant agencies. In addition, the Office has provided training for a number of these bodies.

34. The Office has worked in close co-operation with the Patten Oversight Commissioner ensuring that accountability and governance mechanisms for Policing in Northern Ireland were strengthened as required by the Patten Report. The Reports of the Oversight Commissioner acknowledged and commended the Police Ombudsman for the contribution made in this central area of policing oversight.



Accountability Mechanisms

35. The Office is subject to an extensive range of reporting, review and stringent accountability mechanisms. These include accountability to Parliament from which 47 Parliamentary Questions have been received in two years. The Office was recently advised by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of Parliament that that Committee is conducting a Parliamentary Inquiry into the Office this year. In addition to this there is provision for inspection by the Criminal Justice Inspector and the Surveillance Commissioner, audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Judicial Review and other legal challenge, and investigation by the Commissioner for Children and Young People. The Information Commissioner has approved and oversees adherence to the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

36. In the first three years the Police Ombudsman has been subject to 20 Judicial Reviews, testing the new law and covering a wide spectrum of issues raised by both police officers and the public. These have included an action by the Police Association to quash a report, and an action to challenge a decision of the Police Ombudsman that three police officers under investigation must be interviewed simultaneously. The officers wanted to use the same lawyer, which would have made simultaneous interview impossible and threatened to compromise the investigation. In another case a member of the public wanted access to sensitive documents which the Police Ombudsman had obtained during an investigation. To date the Police Ombudsman has not been found by the Court to have made a wrong decision. The report relating to the Police Ombudsman investigation into allegations that the police failed to deal appropriately with threats to the life of Rosemary Nelson cannot be published pending the receipt of judgement deciding whether the Police Ombudsman was correct not to disclose sensitive documentation to the complainant.

37. There has been one civil action, in which the Court found in favour of the Police Ombudsman with costs awarded. Two further civil actions have yet to come to court. There have been 13 industrial tribunal applications to date. Nine were dismissed, one was settled without admission of liability, three are ongoing.


Developing an International Reputation

38. In terms of its resources, powers and role, the Police Ombudsman’s Office is unique in the world. The establishment and initial work of the Office, as a means of providing independent investigation of police complaints, has attracted international attention. Between 2001-2003 the Office played host to 23 international delegations, many of whom are seeking to improve their own system of police accountability. In November 2003, more than 300 delegates from 20 countries visited Belfast to attend a conference on ‘Policing the Police’ organised by the Office. Members of staff have also spoken at major international forums on police accountability including in 2001 the ‘Second Global Forum against Corruption’ in the Hague, in 2000 and 2001 at the Canadian Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement Conference, and in 2002 at America’s National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement Conference. Most recently the Police Ombudsman addressed the African Police Accountability Conference in South Africa. During 2003 the Police Ombudsman visited and worked with the Governments of Brazil and Portugal. The Office has also been asked to assist the Governments of Macedonia and Argentina with similar matters.

39. In the United Kingdom, the Office has been closely involved in assisting the development of the new Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) for England and Wales, which will start work in April 2004. At the invitation of the Home Office, the Police Ombudsman and her staff have made a significant contribution to the establishment of the IPCC. In addition to this, the Office has been consulted in relation to possible changes to the police complaints system in Scotland. There have also been contacts from the Republic of Ireland, which is proposing to introduce a similar system.

40. When developing the Office the Police Ombudsman was determined to make the complaints process as simple as possible. Members of the public can make a complaint in writing, fax, email or by telephoning the Office. They can call at the Office with or without an appointment. They can complain through their local police station. They can also contact the Office through their solicitor or other representative. The percentage made directly to the Office rose, in 2003, to 48%. 40% are made via the police. Many of these are complaints arising during the course of detention and arrest. 12% are made through public representatives and solicitors. Complaints must normally be made within a year of the incident complained about.

41. The Office is becoming more efficient. For example, in 2002 the average time taken to deal with complaints was 142 days; by 2003 the average time was 99 days. Improved systems of investigation have been developed. Staff, on average, interview members of the public calling at the Office within four minutes of their arrival. 96% of complaints are acknowledged and action is taken within three working days. 77% of complainants are contacted by an Investigating Officer within three working days of complaints being referred for investigation.

42. On 6 November 2000 the Police Ombudsman took responsibility from the ICPC for 2124 “active“ case files. With the exception of 29 case files, these files have now been processed and closed. Among these cases was the ICPC supervised investigation into the death of Robert Hamill. Since the Police Ombudsman assumed responsibility for the matter from the ICPC two people have been convicted of perverting the course of justice and three more people are to stand trial for perverting the course of justice.

43. The Office has received over 10,700 complaints and has also dealt with a total of 2425 files in respect of miscellaneous matters, civil claims and Compensation Agency queries. General enquiries on policing outside the remit of the Office also place a significant demand on the Office. All enquiries are responded to sympathetically.

44. Under Section 55 of the Police (NI) Act 1998 the Chief Constable, Policing Board and Secretary of State may refer matters, in the public interest, for investigation. This Section also empowers the Police Ombudsman to call matters in for investigation without complaint. This enables investigation in circumstances in which people are too afraid or reluctant to be seen to make a complaint.


45. The Chief Constable must refer to the Police Ombudsman, under Section 55, all deaths which may have resulted from the conduct of a police officer. The Office has investigated deaths by hanging, shooting, road traffic accidents, and all deaths occurring in police custody. In addition to this the Chief Constable refers every discharge of any firearm, including baton guns, to the office for investigation, because it is in the public interest that the use of lethal or potentially lethal force is independently investigated.

46. At the end of each Section 55 investigation, a report is sent, to the Chief Constable, the Secretary of State and Policing Board.

47. The Police Ombudsman has received 126 Section 55 Referrals. Many recommendations for improvements in policing have been made in the Reports submitted following the investigation of these referred matters. Summaries of many of these can be found on the web-site.

48. Legislation also requires that grave or exceptional allegations, not previously investigated (or where new evidence is forthcoming) shall be investigated, irrespective of when the incident occurred, if it is in the public interest to do so. The Office has received many of these historic allegations. They have come from ordinary people and from families of security force members who have been murdered. Some of them involve allegations that police officers were involved in murder by act or omission, or colluded by not investigating properly murders which had occurred. Some are deemed out of remit for a variety of reasons, or are resolved to the complainant’s satisfaction after preliminary enquiries. Some have been investigated and have resulted in either a referral back to the police for further investigation of a murder in which there was no police involvement, or a recommendation for disciplinary action against a police officer. Others, by law, do require investigation, but must be retained and prioritised to be dealt with as resources permit. These enquiries tend to be resource intensive and time consuming, made all the more difficult by the passage of time.

Although the results of such investigations may prove negative for the PSNI, experience has shown that for the families involved the opportunity to engage with the Office has proved positive. Closure and healing of distress and suspicion suffered for decades has proved to be an unexpected outcome of the Police Ombudsman’s work. Such closure has emerged across the community, both in cases in which it has been established that the investigation was not properly carried out, and also in cases where long held suspicion is finally laid to rest, to the relief of the family concerned.

49. The Secretary of State has a power to request the Police Ombudsman to report under Section 61(1) of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 1998. The NIPB has a power to request the Police Ombudsman to conduct an enquiry (as distinct from an investigation) under Section 60 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000. Neither of these powers have been exercised.

50. The Police Ombudsman has a new power to conduct an investigation into any current practice or policy by virtue of Section 60A Police (NI) Act 1998 (as amended by Section 13 Police (NI) Act 2003). The legislation is quite recent and to date only one such investigation has been conducted. This is an investigation instigated after several complaints were received concerning officers not displaying personal identification numerals at public order incidents. Previously the Police Ombudsman conducted research into policy and practice issues. Details of these can be found at Paragraph 65 et seq.

51. Once a complaint has been received further enquiries are conducted, or the complaint is referred for formal investigation. The Office also manages an Informal Resolution process. Informal Resolution provides an opportunity, in those matters which are considered less serious, for the complaint to be referred to the police for a senior officer to speak to the complainant and to the police officer separately in an effort to resolve the matter informally. This process can only occur with the consent of the complainant.

52. Where possible and appropriate every effort is made to resolve complaints without formal investigation.


Carrying out Formal Investigations

53. Some complaints can be closed following initial investigation where, for example, it is possible to provide clarification about a matter, or to satisfy the complainant as to the circumstances which gave rise to the complaint which was made. An example of this would be where the conduct complained of was found to be lawful and authorised. The outcome will then be communicated to the complainant and any relevant police officer, and also to the PSNI.

54. Allegations requiring investigation range from incivility to collusion or involvement in murder. This presents a significant challenge for a small office. Some of the investigations are extremely complex. A fatal shooting by the police last year provides an example of the demands that can be placed on the Office - the complexity of the situation led to 38 staff being recalled to duty that evening. They worked through most of the night. Considerable resources were to be required for an extended period to investigate the incident. Another example is a current sensitive enquiry commenced by this Office in June last year which involves 19 investigative and 3 support staff. It is likely that the investigation will not conclude for another 12 months.



55. Two important changes of culture in the police service have become evident over the past three years. In the first instance there is greater openness and a willingness to apologise where necessary. The leadership of the Chief Constable, Hugh Orde, has been important in this context. When the Police Ombudsman reported on the multiple failings in the investigation into the murder of Sean Brown (see paragraph 20 above), the Chief Constable immediately accepted the findings, and apologised to the Brown family.

In addition to this, officers are now coming forward to inform the Police Ombudsman about wrongdoing, and to give evidence against their fellow officers. Recently a police officer was convicted of perverting the course of justice and sent to jail following an investigation during which three of his colleagues came forward to give evidence against him. This is the true face of modern policing. There is a minority of corrupt and violent police officers in most forces, but there are also those who act justly and with integrity and courage, and who are prepared to do what is right. Giving evidence against a colleague is never easy, and those that take that course display personal courage.

56. The investigation procedure is as follows:

i. Investigations are conducted thoroughly in a ‘search for the truth’.

ii. Each investigator has full legal powers necessary to conduct investigations. This means that an Investigator has, for example, powers to arrest police officers, search premises, and to seize any property, including police equipment such as uniforms, boots, batons, firearms, notebooks, police logs, vehicles for the purposes of an investigation.

iii. These law enforcement powers are used necessarily, proportionately, legally and sparingly. The overwhelming majority of investigations are completed with the co-operation of police officers and others involved. On 3 occasions in over 3 years, arrests have been executed without prior notice, and on other occasions, a total of 13 further officers have been arrested ‘by appointment’ as they had refused to co-operate and voluntarily attend a criminal interview. Whilst the powers are infrequently used, they are essential to ensure that investigations can be carried out effectively.

iv. The Police (NI) Act 2000 and Regulations provide an unqualified right of access to any material held by the police which is required for investigations. Some of the material required is extremely sensitive and secure arrangements have been made to ensure its safe handling within the Office. The Security and Law Enforcement Community have expressed confidence in the way such information has been handled by the Office.

v. The Investigator will carry out the necessary search for witnesses and seek to explore each evidential opportunity whether it supports the officer or the complainant.

vi. The PSNI are now moving towards real community based policing. Many of the investigations involve occasions of public disorder which are foreseeable and are the subject of pre-event planning. On those occasions, therefore, the Investigator will ask what community consultation was carried out and will write to all elected representatives to seek any assistance they might be able to give. In other cases where public disorder is protracted the Investigator will enquire whether efforts were made to involve community leaders in conflict resolution so as to obviate any necessity to use force.

vii. The final recommendation for criminal or misconduct proceedings is based on available and admissible evidence. Investigation processes are based on best practice, and utilise relevant forensic, medical, technological and other expertise.

viii. If an investigation indicates that a police officer may have committed a criminal offence the Police Ombudsman must make a recommendation to the Director of Public Prosecutions under s. 58 of the Police (NI) Act 1998. A recommendation may be that an officer should not be prosecuted, or that he/she should be prosecuted.

ix. The Director of Public Prosecutions decides whether a police officer should be prosecuted. The Police Ombudsman does not make this decision.

x. If the Director of Public Prosecutions does decide to prosecute then the officer will be prosecuted by the Crown and the evidence will be judged by a court. An officer facing prosecution is entitled to all the normal protection accorded by the law to those being investigated for criminal offences. If the officer is found guilty s/he has the normal rights of appeal.

xi. If there is evidence to suggest that a police officer, from the rank of Constable to the rank of Chief Superintendent, may have acted in breach of the Code of Ethics (formerly the Code of Conduct) the Police Ombudsman must present a file to the Chief Constable containing recommendations as to whether the officer should face disciplinary charge. The Chief Constable then decides if he accepts the recommendations. If they are rejected the Police Ombudsman can direct that disciplinary proceedings take place.

xii. The Police Ombudsman may recommend no charge. The Chief Constable may decide to charge.

xiii. Disciplinary charges are heard by a Disciplinary Tribunal. The Police Ombudsman has no function in the tribunal. It comprises either police officers or independent members and hears and decides upon the culpability of the officer.

xiv. An officer facing serious misconduct charges, where dismissal or reduction in rank is an option for the tribunal, is entitled to legal representation and to a colleague to assist him. The tribunal operates formally under the RUC (Conduct) Regulations 2000. There is a right of appeal under the RUC (Appeals) Regulations 2000. The Police Ombudsman has no role in this process.

xv. If the Police Ombudsman recommends charges against a Senior Officer that recommendation will be made to the Policing Board. The Policing Board will then decide whether or not to accept the Police Ombudsman’s recommendations. The Police Ombudsman has no further function once the recommendation is made. Any tribunal will be constituted by the Policing Board under the RUC (Conduct) (Senior Officers) Regulations 2000.

xvi. Any senior officer has the normal right of appeal from a tribunal’s decision under the RUC (Appeals) (Senior Officers) Regulations 2000.

57. Some investigation reports are, of necessity, critical of individual police officers whether retired or serving. In cases where public statements (see Paragraph 14) are being made which affect police officers, a protocol between Police Staff Associations, the PSNI and the Police Ombudsman defines the process by which individuals may comment on the draft text. Those comments are taken into account in formulating a final report. Individuals have not been named in such reports.


Complaint Outcomes

58. There can be many different outcomes to complaints. In the majority of cases there is no recommendation that an officer be prosecuted or disciplined. In many cases however there will be an indication that police policy or practice could be improved. Recommendations are then made to the Chief Constable. In some cases it is clear that there has been police misconduct, but it is not possible to identify the officer responsible. This will be reported to the complainant and the police. Yet other cases indicate a need for officer training or re-training. Some cases are resolved by explaining why the police acted as they did (for example, where there has been a justified delay in responding to a call which was less urgent than the matter being dealt with).


Criminal Prosecutions

59. Statistics for referrals to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) over the first three years reveal that:

 374 cases of complaint have been referred to the DPP for direction.

 40 criminal charges have been recommended by the Police Ombudsman in respect of 28 investigations.

 To date the DPP has directed 19 criminal charges, directions are awaited in 17 cases

 In 3 cases where Police Ombudsman did not recommend prosecution, DPP directed charges

The DPP has directed that officers be prosecuted for: assault occasioning actual bodily harm, common assault, careless driving, dangerous driving, causing death by dangerous driving, and perverting the course of justice.

10 officers have been found not guilty, 1 officer was the subject of a police caution and 2 officers subject of criminal conviction. The other cases have not yet been heard.


Disciplinary Action

60. If an investigation by the Office demonstrates that a police officer has acted improperly, the Police Ombudsman may recommend that the Chief Constable should bring disciplinary proceedings against the officers involved. If the Police Ombudsman believes there are mitigating circumstances, or the relevant misconduct was not serious, she may recommend informal proceedings. Formal disciplinary sanctions range from dismissal to a reprimand. Informal sanctions include ‘Advice and Guidance’ and additional training.

Disciplinary action in varying formats has been recommended against 119 officers. In a further 23 cases it has been recommended that officers receive a management discussion.



Improving Police Policy and Practice

61. In every investigation there is a review of whether policy, practice or training issues were a factor in the incident. This has led to numerous recommendations to the PSNI (see paragraph 58). These have been welcomed by the Chief Constable. Such recommendations are made in Reports and, where an urgent matter is identified, the Chief Constable is notified forthwith.

62. Poor compliance by police officers with the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, 2000 was recently identified. This is being corrected following recommendations to the Chief Constable. There are many other examples of recommendations leading to improvements, including recommendations in relation to baton use, firearm use, the length of time on which officers remain on duty, first aid training of Custody Officers, safety features of custody suites and the display of personal identification numerals.

63. When weapons of any kind are utilised there may be an adverse response from the public. In Northern Ireland, with a routinely armed police service, and community difficulties in relation to the police, independent accountability for firearm use is a vital tool in maintaining and preserving public confidence in the police. Experience across the world has shown that public confidence in the police is eroded by disproportionate use of force and firearms.

64. There has been a significant reduction in the percentage of allegations of use of force (assault, intimidation and harassment) since the Office opened from 50% to 34% of all allegations. There has also been a noticeable reduction in the number of allegations of misuse of batons (truncheons) from 419 in 2001, to 240 in 2002, and to 148 in 2003. In 2001, on becoming aware of the very high levels of allegation of misuse of batons, the Police Ombudsman notified the Chief Constable and began a research project which led to a number of recommendations.

65. Most importantly, there has been a reduction in the number of occasions on which live fire has been used by police officers in Northern Ireland from 21 in 2001, to 11 in 2002, and to 5 in 2003. The number of complaints about other use of firearms (such as assault by firearm) has reduced from 40 in 2001, to 25 in 2002 and to 12 in 2003. These reductions have been achieved through working with the PSNI on identifying problems during investigation. There has been no corresponding increase in injuries caused to police officers and no corresponding increase in the use of firearms by criminals against the police during this period. Combined with the fact that there has been an overall drop in the volume of complaints from 3590 in 2001 to 3340 in 2002, and to 2954 in 2003, this constitutes a major shift in the pattern and nature of complaints. In the past year there has also been a noticeable decrease in reported crime and an increase in detected crime.



Providing Management Information

66. The Office must compile statistical information on trends and patterns in complaints against the police, and supply this to the PSNI and the NIPB. Protocols which are under constant review, have been agreed with the PSNI and the NIPB as to the statistical and other information to be supplied and the frequency of its delivery.

67. On a quarterly basis detailed statistical information as to trends and patterns in complaints is published on the Office web-site.

68. Data on incoming complaints, including summary information on volume of complaints trends and patterns in complaints and on complaint outcomes, are supplied to the PSNI on a monthly basis so that District Commanders can access this information at a local level and carry out their own analysis.

69. Information on multiple complaints recorded against individual officers is provided to the PSNI as recommended by the Patten Commission. District Commanders and IIB are able to use this information to identify officers of potential concern, and to deal with them through management intervention.


Carrying out Research to Inform and Improve Policing Policy and Practice

70. The Office is committed to carrying out research and consultation in order to improve the quality and effectiveness of the police complaints system, to inform the public about its powers of independent investigation, and to contribute to the improvement of policing in Northern Ireland. The following research reports have been produced.

Public and Police Attitude Surveys

71. The Office has commissioned a series of questions in the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) Omnibus Survey on five occasions since October 2000. Findings from these surveys are published, and have shown a considerable growth in public awareness of and confidence in the Office. The information obtained helps target outreach activities towards groups within the community in which awareness or confidence levels are lowest.

72. To assess police attitudes towards the Office, survey questionnaires were distributed to all members (9000) of the PSNI in January 2003. The forms were collated and the data analysed independently by NISRA. A summary report of the findings is being produced, whilst some issues have already been addressed. A Joint Working Committee of PSNI, the Police Staff Associations and the Police Ombudsman is to be set up in order to address other issues coming from the study.

Study of Attitudes of Young People to the Police

73. This project, carried out by the Institute for Conflict Research, was jointly funded by the Office and the NIPB. Over 1,100 young people were interviewed and 31 focus groups of young people were convened during the course of the study, making it the most extensive and authoritative study of its kind, as well as the first to explore the attitudes of young people to the reformed policing arrangements in Northern Ireland. A full report of the work was published independently by the Institute for Conflict Research in April 2003.

Study of the Treatment of Solicitors and Barristers by the Police

74. Following reports of intimidation, harassment and/or threats made towards solicitors and barristers by police officers, the Police Ombudsman initiated a research study of the treatment of solicitors and barristers by the police. This project was supported by both the Law Society for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Bar Council. The research found that 55 solicitors and barristers had experienced intimidation, harassment or threats from the police. A full Report was published in March 2003 detailing the findings of this research.

Study of Complaints involving the use of Batons by the Police

75. A study was carried out of complaints involving baton use by the police. It looked at the number and nature of these complaints and the circumstances in which they arose, and then compared the frequency of these complaints in Northern Ireland with figures for other police forces in England and Wales. Officers in Northern Ireland were 40 times more likely to be the subject of baton complaints than officers in England and Wales. They were 6 times more likely to be injured. Multiple recommendations for change in policy and practice emerged from this Report.

Study of Baton Round use by the PSNI

76. A Report published in May 2002 summarised the Regulation 20 Reports provided to the Secretary of State, the PBNI and the Chief Constable concerning the discharge of baton rounds by police officers during 2001 and 2002. The Report summarises graphically the context of each discharge. Situation in which baton rounds were used involved the use of force threatening to life against civilians and the police. That use of force took the form of gunfire, petrol bombs, blast bombs, acid bombs and missiles of varying kinds. In all the incidents examined the Police Ombudsman concluded that the discharge of the baton rounds was fully justified and proportionate, to save or protect life, as were the authorisation and directions given. However, a number of recommendations were made about police policy and practice.


Conclusion

The purpose of this short paper is to demonstrate, briefly, the nature and importance of the independent accountability mechanism for complaints against the police which has now existed in Northern Ireland for three years.

The vision of the Police Ombudsman and her staff is that they will “strive for excellence in providing an independent impartial police complaints system in which the public and the police have confidence”. The final part of the Mission of the Office is “to improve and inform the policy and practice of policing”. The Office is used by all sections of society. In the last Annual Report the community background of complainants was recorded as follows: 38% Catholic, 49% Protestant, and 13% other religion or none. Complainants come from every part of Northern Ireland. There is no postcode area which is unrepresented. Confidence figures in the independence, impartiality and fairness of the Office are high across both Catholic and Protestant communities. Working relationships with the PSNI are good. There is inevitably constructive tension. Many recommendations have been made and implemented by the PSNI. Confidence in the independent police complaints service can only contribute to a sense that the police are accountable, and that therefore there is justification for increasing levels of confidence in the police themselves. It is hoped that the Office has made, and will continue to make a contribution to the Peace Process by the work it does.