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22 July 1999 Edition

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Police change urged

Patten must prioritise human rights - CAJ



A leading human rights organisation, the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) has published a report urging Chris Patten to ``hammer home the need for police change''.

The Belfast-based CAJ based its findings on a cross-community conference on policing to make a series of recommendations for reform. The report, titled ``The Agreement and a new beginning to policing in Northern Ireland'', provides details on the approach taken to policing in other countries around the world, draws on international human rights standards relevant to policing and makes a whole series of recommendations which they say are ``designed to secure a police service which is accountable, representative and protects human rights''. The report provides concrete proposals on issues such as training, the creation of a representative police service, civilianisation, an effective civilian oversight body, and legal and procedural mechanisms to secure the accountability of the Chief Constable. The CAJ says the intention of the conference and subsequent report is to develop a number of human rights benchmarks for policing. These benchmarks come under five main headings and include the following:

Composition, Recruitment and Training


Affirmative action may be needed to redress current religious imbalance in the makeup of the RUC, while a timetable for change in the composition; a new policing oath and greater civilian involvement in policing were possible.

The size of the force would decline.

The protection of human rights, if a ``guiding principle'' could be ``unifying''.

Culture, Ethos and Symbols


A possible register of officers' outside interests (such as the Orange Order and Ancient Order of Hibernians). Calls for such membership to be banned were balanced against a right to privacy.

The need to address how within the RUC ``alienated'' part of the community, while avoiding ``token'' changes.

Police should full comply with employment legislation enforcing a neutral working environment.

Structures and Management


A greater ``civilianisation'' of policing, with proposals for new structural models for the police (along regional or functional lines) to have legal and democratic accountability.

Accountability


The current complaints system ``must be seriously overhauled''. The inquest system was described as a ``crucial mechanism for police accountability, which is currently inadequate.

Human rights benchmarks suggested that emergency law ``must go''.

Management of Change


The policing commission should ``seek to secure widespread political and public support for the need for change'' and ``offer neither cosmetic change nor change for change's sake''.

The pain of those who lost loved ones serving in the RUC and those who had relatives killed by the RUC must be treated with equal respect.

The Commission must look at the handling of past policing controversies, with new reforms bringing ``real change on the ground''.

 


CAJ spokesperson Martin O'Brien said ``We have published this report now as a contribution to the public debate on policing and to assist the Patten Commission in its work. The report provides important benchmarks against which the public will be able to measure the recommendations of the Commission when its report is ultimately published in September.

``While there is undoubtedly some controversy surrounding the issue of policing, this report and the public consultations held by the Commission, also highlight an important level of cross community consensus around what needs to be done. The Good Friday Agreement called for new arrangements for policing. The challenge to the Patten Commission is not whether to change, but rather what kind of fundamental change will secure confidence across every community in Northern Ireland.''

This all comes amid reports that the Patten Commission intends to recommend major reform of the RUC which, however, would be tied to a programme of IRA decommissioning. The Commission's report is due to be published at the beginning of September during the review geared towards forming an inclusive Executive. ``The unionists will then use the issue of the RUC to drag this out until Christmas and then until May 2000,'' a Sinn Féin spokesperson said. ``Then they will try to exclude Sinn Féin on the decommissioning issue. There will have been no institutions set up and still they will try to exclude Sinn Féin. We could end up with a unionist-dominated executive with the UUP and the DUP outnumbering the SDLP. That is the key objective - to regain a unionist-dominated government.''
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