Patten's radical model of policing is emasculated in Police (Northern Ireland) Bill

The Report of the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland ( Patten Report) was published in September 1999 (see Statewatch, vol 9 no 6). In brief, it recommended a radical new model of policing in Northern Ireland. Instead of a highly centralised, hierarchical, police force, it recommended a policing network incorporating the community, the police and a whole range of other agencies in the governance of security. The whole network would be properly regulated and democratically accountable, financially and politically through a Policing Board. To underscore the possible diversity of policing forms, it recommended that the Policing Board's budget could support forms of policing other than that provided by the police.

In order create partnerships between the police, other agencies and the communities at the local level, the Commission recommended that a District Policing Partnership Board (DPPB) should be set up for all of the 26 District Councils in Northern Ireland and four to cover Belfast. Although the Commission suggested that their functions should be advisory, explanatory and consultative it also recommended that District Councils should have the power to contribute money to enable DPPB's to purchase additional services from the police or statutory agencies or from the private sector. As the better off have always been able to purchase their security from the private market, this radical recommendation would allow people living in poor and deprived neighbourhoods to obtain extra security through their DPPB. Moreover, unlike private security purchased by the better off, it would be subject to democratic control and accountability. The Patten Commission further recommended that all policing should be transparent and open, subject to human rights and free from any association with the British or Irish states.

In January the Secretary of State outlined to Parliament the Government's decisions on the Patten Commission's main recommendations. In May it published the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill, which received its second reading on 6 June. During the debate, the Secretary of State announced that he had made available his plan for implementing the proposals:  It notes all 175 recommendations and records the government's response to each one.

The document is at best vague and inconsistent and, at worst, economical with the truth. It notes in relation to each of the Pattern Commission's recommendations whether or not the government agrees with it or not. It uses five different terms to indicate its position: Accepted; Accepted partially; Accepted in principle; Accepted with amendments; and Accepted with safeguards. The terms are not defined and are used inconsistently suggesting that Alice in Wonderland has been stalking Stormont Castle. Even the term "Accepted" means the opposite as so many qualifications have been made to the recommendation that, in effect, it has been effectively rejected. For example, the provision that the Policing Board should have the power to ask the Chief Constable to report on or inquire into any issue is so restricted that he or she could find a legitimate reason to refuse every request.

Another Alice in Wonderland expression is the phrase "Legislative provision provided in the Bill', which is used on numerous occasions without a single reference to where any of the 175 recommendations appear in the Bill. From a detailed analysis it is clear that the phrase is highly elastic and is used to cover the recommendations which have statutory force, others that may be included in Regulations or Codes of Practice, and others that may appear in some future legislation. But this still leaves a number of recommendation for which it is claimed that "Legislative provision is included in the Police Bill' but cannot be found. The Secretary of State's paper is therefore of no help at all for the debate on the Bill and has wasted a considerable amount of civil service time. It should be immediately withdrawn and annotated to show where each recommendation has statutory provision in the Bill or in some other legislation.

In an article in the Irish News (15 June) the Secretary of State argues that there has been no watering down of the Patten Commission's radical vision. He went on to say:

"No-one who has read the bill and the government's recently published implementation plan, and listened to my assurances that I am ready to make refinements and changes, could seriously say that I have 'binned' or 'gutted' Patten."

The Bill is on:

Statewatch has carried out a detailed analysis of the Patten Commission's recommendations, the Secretary of State's implementation plan and the Bill. Contrary to what the Secretary of State claims, the Bill has indeed been 'gutted' and many of the Patten Commission's key ideas and radical proposals have been dropped or severely diluted. Some of the more important changes include:

Partnership policing

Human Rights


Neutral policing

Police Board


Whatever the spin Mandelson and his civil servants put on it, the Patten Commission has been 'binned'. The government clearly does not want to let go of policing and it certainly does not want working class communities to have any power in the governance of security in their areas. The risk is seen as too great. But as a recent Irish Times editorial expressed it ( 6 June):

"Mr Mandelson must not allow any dilution of Patten's vision …He, the civil servants and the Unionist community must let go of the old RUC and take the risk that the natives can behave themselves. They did so in 1922 with the establishment of the Garda Síochána. The likelihood must be that they can do the same with the Police Service of Northern Ireland."

Source: Statewatch News online