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Patten's radical model of policing is emasculated in Police (Northern Ireland) Bill
01 July 2000
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 DPPBs 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