We use cookies to collect and analyse information on site performance and usage to improve and customise your experience, where applicable. Click OK to use our website.

Policing Authority fearful of ‘confused accountability’ under proposed reforms
Commissioner Drew Harris and Justice minister Charlie Flanagan Pic: RollingNews.ie

19 Dec 2018 / policing Print

Policing Authority fearful of ‘confused accountability’ under proposed reforms

The Government yesterday accepted all 157 recommendations from the Commission on the Future of Policing, and has launched a new four-year high-level policing strategy.

The plans include a new independent oversight body to be called the Policing and Community Oversight Safety Commission – one of the key recommendations of the O’Toole report.

However, the Policing Authority has cautioned that some of the recommendations “need some more work”.

Significant retreat

The authority believes that the recommendations on policing oversight represent a significant retreat from a principle of empowered, independent, external oversight, without the reasons for this being fully set out.

In a statement, the Policing Authority said that “transformational” reforms could result in a better policing service if they were fully embraced, and progress on certain Garda reforms should be made on an administrative basis without waiting for infrastructure or legislative change.

“Identifying those reforms, sequencing them sensibly and driving their implementation would represent a real advance,” the Policing Authority said.

“The proposed oversight landscape will, the authority believes, be made considerably more crowded and less effective with the likelihood of confused accountability.

Risk

“The authority sees risks in the proposals, of which the Government will wish to be mindful.

"The imperatives regarding public confidence in the Garda Síochána, which caused the Government to decide in April 2014 to establish a Policing Authority, endure, and indeed are again confirmed in the report of Mr Justice Charleton.

“In this regard, while endorsing the ten principles set out by the commission in its proposed new Framework for Policing, Security and Community Safety, the authority considers that there is a missing principle which is at the heart of many of the views expressed in this submission, namely that governance, accountability and oversight of policing must be empowered, external, independent and publicly exercised.”

Intrusive

The Policing Authority declares that policing is different to any other service the State provides, “because An Garda Síochána has coercive and intrusive but necessary powers over us all, it has the capacity to impact on the rights and liberties of the individual, and officers appropriately have independence and absolute discretion in discharging those powers”.

With such power comes the need for particularly robust and transparent accountability mechanisms, the Policing Authority says.

Public confidence in Garda accountability and Garda responsiveness to being accountable, derives from the status, independence and powers of the oversight bodies, the Policing Authority continues.

“The interests of the policing organisation may not always be aligned with the broader public interest in having performance assessed in public,” it says.

Clarity

“Clarity as to who has the duty, authority and opportunity to challenge and take a view in the public interest is critical.”

The authority says it would welcome a recommendation to merge with the Garda Síochána Inspectorate, but says it has difficulty appreciating what residual added-value oversight role the new set-up would bring if key oversight functions return to the Department of Justice and Equality, and an internal governing board of An Garda Síochána respectively.

Oversight

“By any definition, oversight is inherent in governance and accountability,” the Policing Authority concludes.

“The proposal to artificially segregate it, and put key elements into internal mechanisms that are not transparent and, by definition, cannot be truly independent, represents a significant policy shift.

“It is a closed loop,” the authority declares, pointing out that there is an onus on a democracy to ensure appropriate checks and balances on policing that are independent and robust.

External body

“While the Garda Síochána needs to be business-like, it is not a business. In the authority’s view, the need for open and public accountability vested in an independent, empowered, external body remains.”

The Garda Inspectorate, meanwhile, has said that it is important that the proposed new body has the power to carry out unannounced inspection visits, as it previously requested

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland