Policing and Change in Northern Ireland: The Centrality of Human Rights
Centrality of Human Rights
Northern Ireland: The Centrality of Human Rights
Copyright c 1998 by the authors. Fordham International Law Journal is produced by The
Berkeley Electronic Press (bepress). http://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/ilj
Policing and Change in Northern Ireland: The
Centrality of Human Rights
It is the contention of this Essay that the international principles of human rights must form
the foundations of any future policing service in Northern Ireland. Leaving behind the sterile
communalism that has characterized past approaches to policing in favor of a rights-based approach,
would benefit all in Northern Ireland. A human rights policing framework would particularly
relieve those living in working class communities, both catholic and protestant, who have borne
the brunt of heavy policing policies and tactics. While acknowledging that no approach to
policing reform can appease all shades of Northern Ireland’s political and cultural opinion, the current
political climate provides considerable opportunities for bringing about positive change.
Furthermore, unless policing becomes more representative, accountable, and respectful of human rights,
the continuation of negative contact between the police and the policed will create tension and
conflict and ultimately threaten the peace.
POLICING AND CHANGE IN NORTHERN
IRELAND: THE CENTRALITY OF
For those who ask the question 'how can policing return to
normal?' are perhaps asking the wrong question. We should
be asking 'how can we make policing applicable to the society
we hope to create and develop here for the first time?'"
It is the contention of this Essay that the international
principles of human rights must form the foundations of any future
policing service in Northern Ireland. Leaving behind the sterile
communalism that has characterized past approaches to policing
in favor of a rights-based approach, would benefit all in
Northern Ireland. A human rights policing framework would
particularly relieve those living in working class communities, both
catholic and protestant, who have borne the brunt of heavy policing
policies and tactics. While acknowledging that no approach to
policing reform can appease all shades of Northern Ireland's
political and cultural opinion, the current political climate
provides considerable opportunities for bringing about positive
change. Furthermore, unless policing becomes more
representative, accountable, and respectful of human rights, the
continuation of negative contact between the police and the policed will
create tension and conflict and ultimately threaten the peace.
* Dr. Linda Moore works in the Youth Justice Unit of the Northern Ireland
Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders ("NIACRO"). She is co-author of
several publications on policing in Northern Ireland including HUMAN RIGHTS ON
DUrY: PRINCIPLES FOR BETTER POLICING - INTERNATIONAL LESSONS FOR NORTHERN
IRELAND, with Mary O'Rawe, published by the Committee on the Administration ofJustice,
1997. The author would like to thank the staff and volunteers of the Committee on the
Administration ofJustice for their help and access to the wealth of material collected by
observers during the work of the Commission on Policing. Thanks particularly to Kevin
Keenan, Committee on the Administration ofJustice, who collected much of the
material contained within this Essay, including political party submissions to the Commission
on Policing and reports of Commission on Policing public meetings. As always, a
special thanks also goes to Maggie Beirne.
1. PROGRESSIVE UNIONIST PARTY, RUC: THE NEED TO CHANGE, SUBMISSION TO THE
POLICE COMMISSION (Nov. 18, 1998).
We are in a constantly evolving situation in Northern
Ireland. Things that once appeared impossible are taking shape.
The signing of and support for the Belfast Agreement (or
"Agreement") are testimony to that. This historic opportunity to
transform the policing process and the criminal justice system
should not be missed.
I. POLICING A DIVIDED SOCIETY
Policing and the rule of law have, from the outset, been
core issues in the conflict in Northern Ireland. From the
formation of the Northern Ireland state in 1921 until the ending of a
unionist-controlled regime in 1972, the police force, the Royal
Ulster Constabulary ("RUC"), was closely identified with the
unionist/protestant cause and was anathema to a large section
of the catholic/nationalist minority within the state. Even when
the British government took direct responsibility for running
Northern Ireland in 1972, the police continued to be perceived
as a partisan body by many catholics. This response stemmed
not only from the RUC's overwhelmingly protestant composition
but also from the increasingly central role that the police played
in the government's "counter-terrorist" policy. This role
brought the RUC into regular conflict with large sections of the
catholic population, but particularly with the catholic working
Ironically, far from eliminating political violence, the
attitude and behavior of the security forces have served to inflame
tensions. The sense of grievance in catholic working class
communities was exacerbated through repeated negative experience
of policing: day-to-day harassment; use of plastic bullets;
accusations of police collusion with loyalist paramilitaries; and alleged
"shoot to kill" policies.
While the challenge to the RUC has come mainly from
nationalists, the relationship between unionists and the RUC has
not been unproblematic. Indeed, the first police officer to be
killed during the Troubles was shot by loyalists. 2 There has been
increased hostility between some unionists and the RUC since
the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985. In
imple2. See CHRIS RYDER, THE RUC 19
: A FORCE UNDER Fia 116 (1997)
(explaining that Constable Victor Arbuckle was shot during gun battle with loyalists on
menting British government policies, the force has come into
conflict with sections of the loyalist community, for example
during loyalist protests against the Anglo-Irish Agreement and more
recently over the force's upholding of the Parades Commission's
ban on Orange marches at Drumcree.
The communally-divided nature of this society has put
pressure on the police, and the way in which the force has
responded to these divisions has had a negative impact on
policing. Policing in Northern Ireland has operated in an abnormal
situation. RUC officers have been subject to the threat of
violence. Three hundred and two members of the RUC have been
killed during the past thirty years and many thousands were
injured through this time.3 In recent months, the Commission on
Policing (or "Commission" or "Patten Commission") has heard
moving accounts from police officers, their wives, widows, and
families of loss and bereavement, of the struggle of living with
disability caused by serious injuries, and of lives distorted by fear
and a preoccupation with personal security.
The RUC has never operated as a "normal" police force.
Since partition, the force has relied on draconian special
powers.4 Police stations in Northern Ireland are highly fortified and
have the appearance of military installations. During the worst
years of the conflict, RUC officers walked the beat in many areas,
accompanied by large patrols of soldiers. Officers were routinely
armed and dressed in bulky flak jackets for their protection.
Despite its protestations to the contrary, the RUC is not a
neutral arbiter between warring sides in the conflict. It has been
a key player. The following problems have been identified in
relation to policing.
" Policing has been over-militarized with an emphasis on
force rather than service. 5
* Policing of "ordinary" crime has been subordinate to
" The RUC is unrepresentative of the communities
served-only 10.5% regular officers are female and 7.5%
of officers are catholic although catholics comprise over
45% of the population. Only a handful of officers are
from ethnic minority backgrounds.7
" Accountability structures are weak at both a local and
* The system for dealing with complaints against the police
has been weak and ineffectual.9
" The security forces, which includes both police and army
forces, have been responsible for approximately 360
deaths during the course of the conflict. The RUC has
been responsible for at least fifty deaths, yet no officers
have been convicted of murder. The security services,
including the police, appear to have immunity from
successful prosecution for their alleged wrongdoing.'0
" The culture of the force has been predominantly
protestant, British, and unionist."
* There are persistent allegations of sexual and sectarian
harassment both directed at civilians by RUC officers and
within the organizational culture of the force.12
Human rights concerns have persisted about the RUC
through the conflict. These have included:
* allegations of a "shoot to kill" policy in the 1980s;"3
* allegations of collusion between the police and loyalist
* the use of plastic bullets by the security forces, including
* mistreatment of detainees in police holding centers; 6
* the use of stop and search powers, which have led to
widespread complaints of harassment-largely from the
working class nationalist/catholic communities but also from
loyalist/protestant areas.1 7
The absence of consensual policing within some loyalist and
nationalist communities has contributed to the phenomenon of
paramilitary policing, or "informal justice" systems. This
phenomenon has often taken the form of shootings and brutal
physical attacks on alleged offenders and those who have fallen foul
of the paramilitary organizations.
II. POLICING THE POST-A GREEMENT NORTHERN IRELAND
As long as the various paramilitary campaigns continued
any talk of policing reform, their suggestions were automatically
rejected by the state and by most unionists. The new situation
created by the Irish Republican Army ("IRA") and loyalist
ceasefires, however, has placed the issue of policing high on the
For many, the future of the RUC remains a distillation of
the Northern Ireland question, reflecting the obvious centrality
of the issue to a society where the state itself has been at the
center of political contention. Given the deep sectarian
divisions in Northern Ireland, the policing issue continues to
produce a predictable set of essentially communalist recipes for the
future of the RUC. At first sight, the division appears stark, with
details of controversy and obstruction that surrounded Stalker investigation). The
report of the official investigation into these allegations was never published. Id.
14. HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH/HELENSKI, supra note 10.
15. COMMITTEE ON THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE, PLASTIC BULLETS: A BRIEFING
PAPER (June 1998). Plastic and rubber bullets have resulted in the deaths of seventeen
people, eight of them children, and thousands of injuries.
16. REPORT OF THE BENNETT COMMITEE, 1979, Cmnd, 7497; PETER TAYLOR,
BEATING THE TERRORISTS? INTERROGATION AT OMAGH, GOUGH AND CASTLEREAGH (1980).
17. MCVEIGH, supra note 12; ANDREW HAMILTON ET AL., POLICING A DIVIDED
SOCIETY: ISSUES AND PERCEPTIONS IN NORTHERN IRELAND (1995).
unionists attempting to preserve "their" police force with as little
change as possible and with nationalists seeking the
development of a policing organization whose composition, culture,
ethos, and structures reflects the reality of divided society. These
simple, polar stances, however, mask more complex attitudes to
the policing question from within both the unionist and
nationalist communities. 18
The fact that a majority of protestants voted for the Belfast
Agreement indicates a desire for peace and a willingness to
accept some degree of police reform in order to achieve this
peace. Some of the smaller and more radical protestant parties,
for example the Progressive Unionist Party ("PUP"), have
developed thoughtful submissions to the Commission on Policing.
These submissions are based upon the sometimes contradictory
views and experiences of their constituents who are politically
supportive of the RUC, even as working class communities have
had some negative experiences of heavy-handed policing tactics.
Nationalists, from the constitutional nationalists of the
Social Democratic and Labour Party ("SDLP"), to the more radical
republican Sinn F~in, have long asserted that any settlement will
have to include a new policing dispensation. Mainstream
republicans have signed up for a deal that falls substantially short of
their aspirations for a thirty-two county republic. Having settled
for a radical reform of Northern Ireland, it becomes all the more
important for the republican movement to demonstrate that
their constitutional compromise has been offset by genuine,
practical gains. The transformation of policing structures falls
into this category-representing perhaps their principal advance
in the way the new Northern Ireland state will operate. Both
parties, however, have accepted that in the short to medium
term at least, policing will be organized on a six-county basis.
The Commission on Policing has been tasked with shaping
the profound changes needed to create a police service capable
of serving this new post-Agreement Northern Ireland. The
Patten Commission faces the pitfall of those working within
Northern Ireland's traditional polarities-how to create opportunities
for positive change without provoking such a hostile reaction
from Unionists that it becomes impossible for the government to
18. See POLICE AUTHORITY FOR NORTHERN IRELAND, supranote 3 (including surveys
of catholic and protestant opinions that are factored by social and economic status).
implement its recommendations. The Commission can take
hope, however, from the complexities of opinion and the desire
for an end to conflict shared by most within Northern Ireland
society. The level of support for the Belfast Agreement is
evidence of a hunger for peace, which can produce the momentum
and broad political will necessary to transform both policing and
the justice system as a whole.
In developing proposals, the Commission should also note
that concerns about human rights violations have been raised by
a wide range of individuals and groups, both locally and
internationally. While community activists, political parties, and
nongovernmental organizations have been at the forefront of
lobbying on human rights in the North, some of their concerns have
also been articulated by official, high-level bodies.
A number of international human rights bodies set up by
governments have condemned the United Kingdom's record in
policing in Northern Ireland. In 1995, the United Nations
Human Rights Committee was critical of the government's
failure to address issues of police accountability by, for example,
considering the necessity for emergency legislation; resolving
outstanding cases; publishing the reports of Stalker/Sampson,
which had allegations of "shoot to kill," and Stevens, which
alleged police collusion with loyalists; and instituting an
independent inquiry into the allegations of police/loyalist collusion in the
murder of solicitor Pat Finucane.1"
Last year, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the
Independence of Lawyers and the Judiciary, Datam Param
Cumaraswamy, reported following his mission to Northern Ireland,
where he had found evidence of allegations of intimidation of
defense solicitors by members of the RUC. 21 More recently, the
United Nations Committee Against Torture recommended the
closure of detention centers in the North, particularly
Castlereagh, at the earliest opportunity, and the abolition of the use of
plastic bullet rounds. The committee also recommended that
the RUC be reconstructed "so that it more closely represents the
cultural realities of Northern Ireland" and that officers be
reeducated with a program "directed at the objectives of the Peace
Accord and the best methods of modern police practice."'21
Children and young people have particularly suffered
during the years of conflict. They have not been immune from
human rights abuse at the hands of the police and the army.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has
expressed concerns about the lack of protection afforded to
children by the state. It has recommended that government gives
consideration to excluding children from the provisions of
emergency legislation and has also expressed concern at the
restrictions on the right to silence. 22
The case for change is strong. The U.K. Government has
ratified many international instruments of human rights,
although of these only the European Convention for the
Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms ("European
Convention") has actually been incorporated into domestic
legislation. Recommendations produced by the Commission on
Policing must be sellable to the people and parties of the North.
They must also, and just as important, meet the international
minimum standards of human rights protection that the
government has a duty to uphold.
III. THE BELFAST AGREEMENT: A MANDATE FOR CHANGE
The Agreement gives the British Government a clear
mandate to bring about change in policing. The Agreement states
that while policing has been a highly divisive and emotive issue,
the political settlement creates an opportunity to bring about a
"new beginning to policing in Northern Ireland with a police
service capable of attracting and sustaining support from the
community as a whole. '23 The Agreement gives no guidance on
how policing might be structured in the future, but states that
the police service should be:
" representative in terms of the community as a whole;
* routinely unarmed, and in a peaceful environment;
" professional, effective, and efficient;
" fair, impartial, and free from partisan political control;
* accountable, both under the law for its actions and to the
" working in partnership with the community.
The structure and arrangements put in place must be capable of
maintaining law and order and respond effectively to crime; "[a]
police service which cannot do so will fail to win public
confidence and acceptance."24
An independent Commission on Policing was established
through the Agreement with a remit to make recommendations
for future policing arrangements. The Commission is also
tasked with finding "means of encouraging widespread
community support for these arrangements. 25 It is due to publish its
final report by Summer 1999.
Acknowledging the impact of other parts of the justice
system on the policing process, the Agreement states that the
police service must operate "within a coherent and co-operative
criminal justice system, which conforms with human rights
norms."26 To this end, it established a government-led review of
the criminal justice system. The remit of the review is to bring
forward proposals for future criminal justice arrangements
"other than policing and those aspects of the system relating to
emergency legislation."27 The Agreement suggests that the
review address issues such as:
" arrangements for making judicial appointments;
* mechanisms for addressing law reform;
" the scope for cross-border co-operation between criminal
justice agencies north and south; and
" possibilities of devolving criminal justice functions to a
The review of the criminal justice system runs parallel to the
work of the Commission on Policing but is scheduled to report
24. Id., Policing and Justice 2.
25. Id., Policing and Justice 3.
26. Id., Policing and Justice 2.
27. Id., Policing and Justice 5.
in Autumn 1999. The timing deliberately allows the review to
take up issues that are left to it or not addressed by the
Commission on Policing. The Agreement also establishes a Human
Rights Commission, for which a Chief Commissioner has
recently been appointed. Issues concerned with policing will
inevitably constitute a large part of the Human Rights Commission's
Changes in legislation will also have an impact on the
policing process. In particular, the incorporation of the European
Convention into U.K. law will provide citizens with recourse to
the courts when there is an alleged breach of human rights.28
The RUC has in the past been the subject of such complaints
through the European Commission and the Court of Human
IV. THE A GRPEMENT AND POLICING:
IDENTIFYING THE GAPS
The Agreement constitutes an important tool for the
promotion and protection of human rights in Northern Ireland.
The verdict of a locally-based civil liberties organization, the
Committee on the Administration of Justice, was that "we were
pleased to see so many references to human rights in the Good
Friday Agreement. It was reassuring to see the frequent
references to the centrality of rights, equality, and justice for all, in
the final text."3
While the human rights and equality commitments within
the Agreement are important advances, there remains cause for
concern over some issues. Some of these are directly relevant to
the task of the Commission on Policing. How the Commission
addresses these gaps will be an important factor in determining
the extent to which policing in Northern Ireland is transformed.
A. Policing and CriminalJustice: An Artificial Division
While the Agreement recognizes the impact of the entire
criminal justice system on policing, it creates an artificial division
by establishing separate processes for reviewing the criminal
justice system and policing. There are many issues of overlap in
concern between the Commission on Policing and the review of
the Criminal Justice System. Examples of issues potentially
falling within the remit of both bodies are the role of the police in
the prosecution process, accountability of the intelligence
services, and crime prevention. The time-gap between the two
reports is designed to allow the Criminal Justice review to pick up
on issues left to it by the Commission on Policing. The
Agreement does not, however, establish any formal mechanism for
cooperation between the two bodies. The indications are that, to
date, contact between the Commission on Policing and the
Criminal Justice review has been limited. This artificial division
mitigates against the holistic approach for which human rights
organizations have been pressing.31
B. Emergency Legislation
One of the most worrying aspects of the Agreement, from a
human rights perspective, is the exclusion of emergency powers
from the specific remit of either the Commission on Policing or
the review of the Criminal Justice System. The Agreement
directly states that emergency legislation lies outside the remit of
the Criminal Justice review. The Commission on Policing is not
explicitly tasked with reviewing emergency legislation, and it is
open to interpretation whether the Agreement permits the
Commission to include it within its deliberations. It is crucial that the
Commission considers the impact of emergency powers on
policing. Indeed, the social environment and legislative context
within which policing takes place is as central to achieving justice
as the policies and operation of policing institutions. 32 The
implementation of special powers legislation by the RUC has been
the focus of discontent since the inception of the state. The
ending of special powers was one of the key demands of the civil
rights movement of the 1960s. 33 Robbie McVeigh's research on
police harassment graphically illustrates the impact of the use of
emergency powers by the RUC on young people. In his
North31. O'RAwE & MooRE, supra note 8.
33. MICHAEL FARRELL, NORTHERN IRELAND: THE ORANGE STATE (1976).
ern Ireland-wide survey of a random sample of young people,
McVeigh found that over a quarter of all young people feel that
they have been harassed in some way by the security forces. 4 A
staggering forty-eight percent of catholic respondents reported
some experience of harassment from the security forces.3 5 As
one man concluded, "in this state, harassment has become part
of everyday life."36 Community groups stated that the most
common sites of alleged harassment by the security forces were
vehicle checkpoints, stop and searches, and house searches-all
legitimated through emergency powers.17 Police powers in
relation to the holding of people in police custody have also been
the source of concern and complaint. The absence of an
effective, independent complaints process and the apparent impunity
of the security forces from prosecution have exacerbated the
problem. McVeigh concludes that emergency legislation:
vastly increases the capacity for harassment and other civil
liberties abuses by the security forces. . . . Furthermore, in
Northern Ireland this emergency legislation is coupled with
the "operational independence" of the security forces which
renders them effectively accountable to nothing apart from
the law in Northern Ireland. When one examines the way in
which the judiciary have dealt with members of the security
forces who appear in front of them one realizes that this
"accountability" is little more than notional. In combination,
these factors create a democratic deficit, which is profoundly
Emergency powers have recently been strengthened. In the
aftermath of the Omagh bombing in which twenty-nine people,
mostly women and children, were killed and hundreds more
were horribly wounded, the British and Irish Governments
hastily introduced new emergency legislation in both states. Civil
liberties groups immediately condemned the measures. The
Committee on the Administration of Justice stated its belief that the
Criminal Justice Terrorism and Conspiracy Act 1998, being
introduced in the United Kingdom, would be in conflict with the
soon to be enacted Human Rights Act. 9 Irish Council for Civil
Liberties spokesperson Michael Farrell warned that
[t]he response by the Irish government is reminiscent of the
actions taken by Britain in the wake of the Birmingham
bombing over 25 years ago. We should remember that those
departures from the rule of law led to miscarriages ofjustice
and the imprisonment of people like the Birmingham Six
and the Guildford Four while those responsible remained
Human rights groups have consistently argued that
emergency legislation is counter-productive and, rather than
reducing conflict, actually fuels it. Individuals and communities that
experienced harassment through the implementation of
emergency legislation are more likely to become alienated from and
hostile to the state. In the case of Omagh, the sheer scale of
community pressure and public outrage at the bombing helped
to push the real IRA towards its declaration of a ceasefire.
To change police institutions, without addressing the
legislative context, would be a recipe for disaster. The possession of
such draconian powers would potentially lead any future police
service into the risk of abuse.
The establishment of an independent Commission on
Policing was particularly welcomed by human rights groups, which
had consistently argued that policing was part of the problem
and that changes in policing must be part of the solution.4 One
of the difficulties with the Agreement, however, is a reticence
about the problems associated with policing in the North. Few
people, if any, could disagree with the aim of securing a
representative, accountable, effective, and professional police service.
Even supporters of the RUC concede that the force as presently
constituted is not representative of society as a whole. The
reasons for the lack of catholic/nationalist representation, however,
have been hotly disputed. Some of these reasons will be
dis39. COMMITrEE ON THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE, A BRIEFING ON THE CRIMINAL
JUSTICE (TERRORISM AND CONSPIRACY) ACT 1998 (Aug. 1998).,
40. COMMITTEE ON THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE, PRESS RELEASE: LOCAL CIVIL
LIBERTIES GROUPS JOINED BY AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL AND HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
ExPRESS CONCERN ABOUT GOVERNMENT PROPOSALS (Aug. 1998).
41. O'RAwE & MOORE, supra note 8.
cussed in the following debate. The Agreement clearly signals
the need for change in policing and in the public's attitude to
policing, but nowhere does it concede the problems that make
this change necessary. Thus, according to one's perspective, the
problem lies simply in the attitudes of critics and opponents of
the police who must be convinced of the need to support the
RUC or, alternatively, that policing in Northern Ireland is deeply
flawed and in urgent need of overhaul.
Given the polarity of perspectives on policing, it would be
unreasonable to expect the Agreement to have spelt out in detail
the nature of the problem or for signatories to have reached a
consensus on this issue. Indeed, these perspectives might have
pre-empted and perhaps prejudiced the work of the
independent Commission. The dilemma, however, is that unless the
problems in policing are acknowledged it is difficult to find
D. Official Denial: The Policy Continues?
Over the course of the conflict, the leadership of the RUC
has been keen to portray the force as the "pig in the
middle"the "thin green line" between warring factions. The RUC, the
public is assured, has stood between the forces of good and
evil-and saved the North from falling into complete disarray.
Sir Ronnie Flanagan, Chief Constable, explained that "[f] or 30
years now, the RUC has quite simply been the bulwark between
anarchy and order."42 From this perspective, the RUC has
played the role of a neutral arbiter.
Successive British Governments and the RUC have
historically adopted a policy of official denial.43 While the Agreement
is couched in language of change, since its signing, government
ministers, including the Prime Minister and the Secretary of
State, have continued to rebut any criticism of the RUC. While
the remit of the independent Commission is broad and
theoretically allows the possibility of recommending the disbandment of
the RUC, the British Government has been at pains to assure
both police officers and their supporters that this is not an
op42. Ulster: The Deal; Why I Want to See Real and Improved Police Changes, BELFAST
43. See O'RAwE & MooRE, supra note 8, ch. 3 (discussing this area in greater
detion. As Secretary of State Dr. Mo Mowlam told a meeting of the
Police Federation that "[s] caremongers have implied that the
RUC will be disbanded .... This will not happen. The police
service in Northern Ireland will remain professional, effective,
efficient, fair, and impartial and free from partisan control." If the
RUC already meets these criteria, then why set up a Commission
on Policing? If it is to succeed in producing meaningful
recommendations, then the Commission must first address the
phenomenon of denial and identify the very real and persistent flaws
in policing practice and policy.
The Ulster Unionist Party ("UUP") in its submission to the
Patten Commission states that " It] he Commission will be unable,
even with hindsight, to alter what is past; it should not dwell on
either the malice of the RUC's enemies nor on the sycophancy
of its admirers-neither will be satisfied."44 While there is merit
in this argument and it is certainly time to move beyond the past,
it is impossible to produce a blueprint for the future of policing
without an examination of what has gone wrong.
V. THE COMMISSION ON POLICING: MAKE-UP
A. The Membership
Secretary of State Mowlam announced the make-up of the
Commission on Policing in June 1998. The fact that she chose a
meeting of the Police Federation, the professional organization
for RUC officers, to make this announcement caused
consternation in human rights circles.4" The Commission is headed up by
Chris Patten, former Governor of Hong Kong. Patten had been
a Conservative Government Minister in Northern Ireland during
the 1980s. Before going to Hong Kong, he had been
unceremoniously voted out as member of parliament by the electorate in
the General Election of 1992. There are seven other members
on the Commission. The Northern Ireland Office described the
role of two of the representatives as having policing expertise.
One representative comes from each of Northern Ireland's main
communities. The others are two leading academics and a
se44. KEN MAGINNIS, AN ULSTER UNIONIST PARTY PERSPECTIVE ON THE ROYAL ULSTER
CONSTABULARY: POLICING IN NORTHERN IRELAND (Sept. 15, 1998).
45. Chris Thornton, Mo Tells of Stone Decision: "I Agonised over Killer's Release,
BELFAST TELEGRAPH, June
nior, and significant business figure.4 6 The members are listed
" Sir John Smith, a former Deputy Commissioner in the
Metropolitan Police, who has previous experience as one
of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Constabulary.
" Kathleen O'Toole, who started her career in the Boston
police and is now Secretary for Public Safety.
" Peter Smith, QC, a barrister of twenty years standing and
seen as the representative of the unionist community.
" Dr. Maurice Hayes, former senior civil servant and
subsequently Ombudsman, who produced a review of the
police complaints system in 1997 that led to change in the
system for dealing with complaints against the RUC and
to the setting up of the office of Police Ombudsman. Dr
Hayes is seen by government as the representative of the
* Prof. Clifford Shearing, Director of the Centre of
Criminology at the University of Toronto, who is an academic
expert on policing in South Africa, Australia, and Canada.
" Dr. Gerald Lynch, President of John Jay College, New
York, whose curriculum vitae includes developing a
course on police and community relations for the United
States Department of Justice.
" Lucy Woods, Chief Executive of British Telecom in
The appointment of Patten was met with mixed, reactions.
Patten had overseen the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to
China. This aspect of his career naturally made him suspect to
the unionist community who feared that he may have come to
perform a similar task in relation to Northern Ireland, but for
the same reason gave nationalists hope that he would produce a
radical report. Patten's background as Government Minister in
Northern Ireland, however, concerned nationalists. In
particular, there was a fear that his former close involvement in the
running of the state in Northern Ireland could prevent him from
impartially studying the performance of the RUC.
Human rights groups were less concerned with Patten as a
figurehead than with other issues. Despite the explicit reference
46. NORTHERN IRELAND INFORMATION SERVICE (June
to human rights in the remit of the Commission, there was no
one with specific human rights expertise on the Commission.
The membership of the Commission was not as international as
had been hoped for. In particular, human rights organizations
had argued that those with an experience in policing and
human rights in countries undergoing transition should be
identified and their expertise used in the process of change.
B. The Process
For the first few months of its life, the Commission was
barely seen by the public. Members from outside of Northern
Ireland were not in the country full time and the Commission,
when it was in the North, spent much of its time visiting RUC
stations and talking to police organizations. The signs were
ominous. Towards the end of 1998, however, the Commission went
"on tour" throughout Northern Ireland, holding a series of over
thirty public meetings in protestant, catholic, and mixed areas in
every local council area of Northern Ireland.47 Over the course
of the tour, the Commission heard from an estimated 10,000
people.48 The entire Commission was at some of the meetings,
but for the final weeks, the Commission split into two to cover
meetings, inevitably leading to complaints from people who felt
slighted by the absence of Chris Patten himself from "their"
meeting. Transcripts from the meetings have not been
published yet, and there has been no public indication as to whether
they will be. The Committee on the Administration of Justice
sent members to attend and observe at twenty-four of the
meetings. Detailed records of the discussions provide a useful guide
to areas of contention and consensus within and between
The public meetings tended to take the form of people
arguing either for or against the RUC per se. At meetings in
nationalist areas, the Commission heard strong calls to disband the
RUC, and at meetings in loyalist areas people vigorously
defended the force and suggested that any change would be
unacceptable and even treacherous. One newspaper described the
overall mood, as follows:
[i]n more than 30 meetings across Northern Ireland . . . in
47. COMMISSION ON POLICING, LEAFLET ADVERTISING PUBLIC MEETINGS (1998).
48. The Task That Lies Ahead of Patten, BELFAST TELEGRAPH, Jan. 11, 1999.
front of 10,000 people, and from the mouths of a good
portion of 1,000 speakers, Patten and his fellow Commissioners
heard that the key to their remit for successful policing in
Northern Ireland was one thing or another: scrap the RUC
in recognition of human rights violations or preserve it in
tribute to decades of sacrifice.4 9
Perhaps the most important outcome of the meetings was
that they provided people with the opportunity to express their
grievances, experiences, hopes, and fears for policing to the
Commission. Despite inevitable complaints about venues and
times, the "Commission on tour" did provide ordinary citizens
with a platform for their views. The Commission heard from a
wide range of people including police families and widows,
victims of crime and paramilitary violence, relatives of those killed
or injured by the security forces, and people who had
experienced police harassment or, alternatively, help from the police.
While the public meetings gave an idea of the strength of
feelings about policing in some communities, it is unlikely that
the meetings helped the Commission to develop its collective
thinking on possible ways forward for policing in Northern
Ireland. Debates about possible structures, recruitment strategies,
or improved accountability mechanisms were impossible in the
circumstances. At one of the first meetings, in West Belfast,
Chris Patten underestimated the depth of feeling and told the
gathering that while he was happy to continue hearing stories of
personal experiences, he also hoped that people would want to
make "positive suggestions for changes in policing." People in
the audience of several hundred strong were visibly angry at the
suggestion that by recounting, sometimes traumatic experiences,
they were somehow not being positive or forward looking.50
The other main ways that the Commission is gathering
evidence are through submissions from individuals, interest groups,
and political parties-over 3000 submissions were received.
Other methods include formal and informal meetings with those
concerned with policing and fact-finding visits to other
jurisdictions to talk to those involved in policing issues.
50. See Kevin Keenan, Pattenon the Road,JusT NEWS (Bulletin of the Committee on
the Administration of Justice, Belfast, Northern Ireland) Jan. 1999, vol. 14, no. 1)
(giving account of this and other meetings).
VI. THE POLICING DEBATE: CONSENSUS AND CONFLICT
It is well-documented and recognized in the Agreement that
policing is a divisive and emotive issue in Northern Ireland.
Public opinion surveys demonstrate the gulf between nationalist and
unionist views of the RUC. A recent poll conducted for the
Police Authority for Northern Ireland (or "PANI") found that
while sixty-five percent of protestant respondents want the RUC
to be allowed to carry on unchanged, forty-eight percent of
catholic respondents wish to see the RUC reformed and a further
thirty-five percent want replacement or disbandment. 1 This
division has led many to conclude that Chris Patten will need the
wisdom of Solomon to produce not only recommendations for
the future of policing, but also a way of convincing people from
unionist and nationalist communities and other parties to
support his proposals.
At first sight, the situation appears zero-sum: produce a
reformist report and antagonize republicans and many
nationalists, put forward radical suggestions and unionists will not
accept the outcome. The Belfast Telegraph described Patten's task
succinctly as being to "make the impossible possible. 5 2
The logistics faced by the Commission illustrate the
difficulty. With a current figure of around 11,500 officers, which
include full-time, permanent, and reserve officers, as economist
Paul Teague points out, "a peaceful Northern Ireland would
only require a police force of 3500-4000; that suggests an end to
violence would threaten about seventy percent of RUC jobs."
While downsizing is necessary to create a viable peacetime
policing service, there is a converse need to increase catholic
recruitment to the police in order to create a more representative
service. To quote Teague again, "making the RUC more
representative and, at the same time, reducing its size would mean,
assuming that no serving catholic officers were made redundant,
8500 protestant officers losing their jobs and between 750 and
1000 new recruits being drawn in from the minority
community. ' 53
The stakes faced by Patten-and the whole of society in the
51. POLICE AUTHORITY NORTHERN IRELAND, supra note 3, at 3, § 9.
52. The Task That Lies Ahead of Patten, supra note 48.
53. PAUL BEW ET AL., NORTHERN IRELAND BETWEEN WAR AND PEACE: THE POLITICAL
FUTURE OF NORTHERN IRELAND 99 (London 1997).
North-are high. Hopes are pinned on the Commission to find
a solution, which both political traditions can, if not embrace,
then grudgingly accept. The cost of failure could signal serious
problems for the peace process itself. The political situation
remains uncertain and potentially creates problems for the
Commission in selling its ideas to the political parties and the public.
A report of a public meeting in Carrickfergus, which is mainly
protestant, recorded that "the former Hong Kong governor was
explicitly informed [that] . . . the entire Belfast Agreement
would be in serious jeopardy if he and his commission of
terrorist appeasers were to touch so much as an emblem on the caps of
the uniforms of the proud members of the Royal Ulster
Constabulary. ' 54
The job of the Commission is facilitated, however, by
evidence of a real desire among the majority of people in Northern
Ireland to make the peace process work. For some, this growing
desire means embracing change. The survey cited above found
that almost one-third of protestants: now support reform of the
RUC.55 Others, while not desirous of change, may be prepared
to stomach reform to preserve the peace process. The depth of
the current conciliation and its potential for consensus on
policing should not be romanticized. Ken Maginnis, UUP security
spokesman, warns that "[w] hatever may be argued by either the
malicious or the naive, society as a whole did not go to the ballot
box on 22 May to vote 'Yes' for an unrecognisible [sic] police
force or for uncertainty. '56 Nonetheless, people voted "yes" in
the certain knowledge that the future of policing would be
examined through the Commission and that some degree of
change was likely. The small protestant socialist party, the PUP,
stated that "in the changing climate there needs to be reform
within the R.U.C. to meet the new challenges created by the
Good Friday Agreement. That reform must be based on
practical and operation considerations and not 'change for the sake of
Public reaction to the Commission illustrates the effect of
this commitment to peace. Despite the misgivings of some
per54. Brenda Power, 300 RUC Men Did Not Give Their Lives for Us to Give in to Their
Murderers, SUNDAY TRIBUNE, Dec. 1
, at 9.
55. POLICE AUTHORITY NORTHERN IRELAND, supra note 3, at 3.
56. MAGINNIS, supra note 44, at 13.
57. PROGRESSIVE UNIONIST PARTY, supra note 1.
spectives, the Patten Commission has met with cooperation from
most political parties and communities. This cooperation gives
the Commission a historic opportunity. In the past, official
bodies concerned with policing, issues have been boycotted. For
example, the Police Authority for Northern Ireland, the
main,oversight body for the RUC is boycotted by both main nationalist
parties and by the trade unions. Nationalist politicians also
refuse to participate in the, local police-community consultative
bodies, Community Police Liaison Committees. The Patten
Commission has certainly met with a hostile reaction from some
loyalist groups and individuals-most notably supporters of the
Democratic Unionist Party-but even opponents of the
Commission have attended the meetings and put their point of view
across forcefully rather than boycotting or disrupting the
While Patten faces an awesome task with many obstacles
ahead, an analysis of some of the submissions to the Commission
indicates that attitudes to the RUC and to potential .change are
not necessarily as polarized on a communal basis as might be
assumed at first glance.58
There is consensus across the board that policing in
Northern Ireland has suffered as a result of the abnormal situation and
that the future lies in the development of community policing,
more responsive to local needs. The UUP submission to the
Commission explains that
[p]olicing in Northern Ireland suffers primarily from the fact
that the community has constantly expected RUC officers to
compensate for the disintegration of the normal democratic
process. Since this breakdown has existed for almost 30 years,
no one under the age of 35 years has really experienced the
benefit of policing carried out within a "normal society."59
From the UUP perspective, it is not so much the RUC as the
attitude of the public, including the loyalist community, which
needs to be changed.
One has only to look at Drumcree and other areas of
con58. The bulk of submissions to the Police Commission have not yet been made
public. This analysis, therefore, is based on submissions made during public meetings
and those made available to the Committee on the Administration of Justice by their
59. MAGINNIS, supra note 44, at 15.
frontation to recognise the huge difficulties with which the
R.U.C. has had to cope on a regular basis; to realise that it is
this stratum of society and not the police which has to be
changed and to understand that criticism of the R.U.C. is
predominantly subjective.6 °
Despite this reticence to admit any defects on the part of the
RUC, the UUP does have proposals for altering police
management structures in order to devolve decision-making to a more
local level where appropriate.
Those with a strong base within the most socially deprived
protestant areas recognize that attitudinal change on behalf of
the civilian population is not enough and that the RUC must
shoulder some responsibility for the problems in policing.
Previous research had already demonstrated a high level of alienation
between protestant working class communities and the police.6'
At some public meetings of the Commission on Policing held in
protestant working class areas, there has been strong criticism of
certain aspects of policing. At the public meeting in the Shankill
area, in the heart of "protestant West Belfast," the Commission
was told about police harassment of local young people. One
man commented that "[o]ur community police do get along
with youth, until there's trouble. Then they bring in the riot
police and start beating heads." At a meeting in a
predominantly unionist area in North Belfast, some self-identified
loyalists spoke of their frustrations with the police and the need for
change. Another person commented that
[t]he Protestant community does not want disbandment 'of
RUC. We love the RUC. But, community policing should be
a separate unit. Don't take your community policeman and
put him in a riot squad uniform. These Ninja-turtles squads
[mobile support units] show up to put down disturbances
and raid houses, destroying any trust that has been built up.62
The protestant PUP states that there is a need to get rid of the
"Landrover Syndrome" in policing and return to "proper
policing on the beat."63
61. HAMILTON ET AL., supra note 17.
62. See Keenan, supra note 50 (summarizing these meetings).
63. PROGRESSIVE UNIONIST PARTY, supra note 1.
A. Under-representationand Strategiesfor Redressing Imbalance
The RUC is a predominantly protestant and largely male
institution. The difficulties in securing change are exacerbated by
the fact that the force has swollen numerically over the course of
the conflict and is grossly over-sized for peacetime policing. The
circle, which must be squared by those who seek change without
the actual disbandment of the force, is that the RUC needs to be
"downsized" for peacetime policing, but at the same time,
increased recruitment of catholics, nationalists, women, and
ethnic minorities is required to create a more balanced
organization. Several parties are struggling to create proposals aimed at
redressing this imbalance.
There is broad agreement expressed both at public
meetings and through political party submissions to the Commission
that the RUC is unbalanced in terms of representation and that
this balance should be redressed. There is disagreement about
why catholics and nationalists have not been recruited to the
force in large numbers and consequently about the possible
solutions. For unionists, the main barriers to the recruitment of
catholics to the RUC have been politically-motivated opposition
to the state among nationalists and the terrorist threat against
catholic police officers. Remove the terrorist threat, the
argument goes, and "ordinary decent" catholics will feel free to join.
Nationalists, on the other hand, argue that people from their
community will not consider policing as a career until a police
service is established that respects the rights and cultures of all.
While there was little emphasis at public meetings on
underrepresentation of women and ethnic minority officers in the
police, political party submissions have made some reference to
this. Several parties including the Alliance Party, the North
Ireland Women's Coalition, and the main nationalist parties such
as the Social Democratic Labour Party ("SDLP") and Sinn Fain,
have proposed that affirmative action measures be adopted to
increase recruitment of catholics/nationalists, women, and
minority communities. The Women's Coalition has argued for
targets, timetables, and outreach programs, as well as
anti-harassment procedures within the organization.64 The SDLP argues
for similar measures and also for the need to create a neutral
64. NORTHERN IRELAND WOMEN'S COALITION, SUBMISSION TO INDEPENDENT
COMMISSION ON POLICING FOR NORTHERN IRELAND (1998).
working environment and disclosure of loyal order
membership.65 Sinn Fdin's position is that the RUC must be disbanded
and an entirely fresh start made if nationalists are to have
confidence in policing. It does concede, however, that RUC officers
should be able to apply for posts in the new service, provided
screening is put in place to ensure that those responsible for
human rights abuse are not re-recruited. Membership of the
loyal Orders would debar a candidate from recruitment to the
new police. Sinn Fain also argues for a quota system for entry to
the new service to ensure balanced representation. 66
Perhaps the most politically interesting response is that of
UUP security spokesman, Ken Maginnis. The UUP submission
to the Commission states that "[g]iven some assurance that the
R.U.C. is not going to be destroyed or changed beyond
recognition there will be a willingness to address seriously the whole
issue of religious imbalance." Not surprisingly, Maginnis
opposes any suggestion that there be a one-off special intake of
catholic recruits into the RUC. However, he does suggest that
"one, maybe the only, way forward would require derogation
from the present anti-discrimination legislation for a limited
period of time." He also accepts that redundancies are likely given
the need to downsize the organization. 67
It is clear that, although the parties have very different ideas
about how the problem of under-representation of minorities
can be resolved, most have addressed the issue and come up
with a variety of innovative mechanisms for tackling the
imbalance. This openness to finding ways forward is something that
the Commission on Policing must seek to build upon.
B. Emergency Legislation
Attitudes to emergency legislation cut across the communal
divide. Not surprisingly, those who are opposed to the
continued use of emergency legislation are the parties based in
working class areas that have suffered the brunt of its
implementa65. SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC AND LABOUR PARTY, SUBMISSION TO PATTEN COMMISSION
66. SINN FEIN, A POLICING SERVICE FOR A NEW FUTURE, SUBMISSION TO THE
COMMISSION ON POLICING (Sept. 1998).
67. See MAGINNIS, supra note 44, at 14 (stating that Maginnis is keen to make clear
that this suggestion is his own personal view and that it does not as yet have
endorsement of his party).
tion. From the protestant community, the PUP argues that
" [w] e must move away from emergency policing and emergency
legislation which can so easily put aside basic civil liberties in the
name of security."" The party also calls for the end of the
juryless Diplock Courts and a return to the jury system. The
Workers Party, a small cross-community socialist party, also calls for an
end to emergency legislation. Both the Workers Party and the
North Women's Coalition suggest the development of a Bill of
Rights will be important in securing the protection of rights.
Recognizing the importance of the legal context in which
policing takes place, Sinn F~in warns that
[n]ew structures for a new policing service will have little
impact while the legal culture of repression remains unchanged.
A new policing service which continues to use the powers in
the EPA and PTA and the new measures announced by Tony
Blair, after the Omagh bomb will prove equally as
unacceptable as the RUC.69
Both the SDLP and Sinn Fain call for an end to emergency
powers and the use of plastic bullets.
There is consensus across the political spectrum that
mechanisms for ensuring police accountability to the public should be
improved. Neither of the main nationalist parties, SDLP and
Sinn F~in, have faith in the bodies currently charged with
ensuring RUC accountability: the Police Authority for Northern
Ireland and the locally-based Community Police Liaison
Committees. Nationalists generally want to see these replaced with new
accountability structures. Sinn Fain states that there is a need
for the creation of a body with widespread and broadly-based
political support. This body should be given powers to recruit
senior officers, to allocate budgets, and to call those senior
officers regularly to account for their activities. Sinn F~in
recommends the setting up of a Commission made up of "Irish and
British government representatives, monitoring representatives
from the European Commission and legal experts, such as
lawyers, magistrates, criminologists and human rights experts." It
could also include political representatives of unionism,
nation68. PROGRESSIVE UNIONIST PARTY, supra note 1.
69. SINN FIN, supra note 66, at 19.
alism, and republicanism. The party envisages this body
remaining in being "until all-Ireland policing structures are in place."
Local advisory committees would also be developed with power
to insist on consultation with local policing structures.70
The protestant PUP is also heavily critical of Policing
Authority of Northern Ireland ("PANI"). The party complains that
"[t]he present situation where the Chief Constable has total and
absolute power is absolutely unacceptable. The Police Authority
should be multi-faceted, socially representative and should have
Reasonable status and power. "71 The UUP seeks the
strengthening of the Police Authority's powers to make it more effective.
The UUP submission to the Commission concedes that a
previous Chief Constable, Hugh Annesley, "frustrated the Authority
by refusing to give it adequate information or to properly
cooperate with it."'72 The party recommends that the recruitment
process for PANI be improved and include one-third of
members selected from nominees of, Community Policing Liaison
Committee ("CPLCs"). In the party's view, this method would
improve consultation between the RUC and people working in
local communities7. 3
The cross-community Northern Ireland Women's Coalition
and Alliance Party both agree with the need to strengthen
accountability structures. The Northern Ireland Women's
Coalition suggests that in addition to a strong, elected, representative
Police Authority, there should be an "[i] ndependent monitoring
and evaluation of police operations and community attitudes
towards safety and security. 74
As on the issue of representation, there is division between
nationalist and unionist parties about the form that change of
accountability mechanisms should take. There is agreement,
however, that enhanced accountability structures would be
D. Devolved Structures
The unionist parties are all committed to retaining the RUC
70. Id. at 17.
71. PROGRESSIVE UNIONIST PARTY, supra note 1.
72. MAGINNIS, supra note 44, at 16.
73. Id. at 18.
74. NORTHERN IRELAND WOMEN'S COALITION, supra note 64, at 6.
as a unitary police organization. The PUP concludes that
"Northern Ireland is a comparatively small country and
therefore it is both practical and economical to have a single police
service." The party does accept, however, that there could be an
overhaul of police infrastructure, i.e. police district and
divisions, departments, etc.75 The UUP also recommends that while
the force should remain a single unit, there could be some
devolution of decision-making within the*organization. 76
The nationalist parties have recommended that policing be
reconstituted on a regional basis. They have different proposals
for how this regionalization might be structured. The SDLP has
for some time proposed a multi-tiered police service organized
on a regional basis. Individual regionalized forces would be
created, but they would fall under the authority of a single Chief
Commissioner. 77 Republicans in Sinn Fain continue to demand
the disbandment of the RUC and its replacement by a new
policing service. In the party's view "[r]eform is not an option....
The imperative for the Commission is to produce an approach
which will work. It is our contention that this means establishing
a new policing service. ' "7 Despite its commitment to a thirty-two
county republic, however, Sinn Fain has developed proposals for
a new policing service based in the first instance on a six-county
model. The party is in favor of a tiered approach for the new
police service and suggests the possibility that policing could be
devolved either on district council areas of Northern Ireland or
health or education board boundaries. These local police would
deal with locally-based crime. There would be a need for
specialist units of this new police service to deal with crimes such as
drugs and organized criminal activity. Sinn Fain argues that
"clear mechanisms for accountability will need to be established
to ensure that such units do not undermine good relations
between local communities and the local police." At the same time
as this creation of a new police service based in Northern
Ireland, Sinn F~in favors the immediate institutionalization of links
with the police in the south of Ireland.79
75. PROGRESSIVE UNIONIST PARTY, supra note 1.
76. MAGINNIS, supra note 44, at 6.
77. See Policing in Northern Ireland presented at the SDLP's annual conference
(Nov. 18, 1995).
78. SINN FRIN, supra note 66, at 2.
79. Id. at 19
Although there is agreement across party lines that more
localized policing structures should be developed, there is still
considerable disagreement between nationalists and unionists
over the structural future of policing. Nationalists are generally
supportive of more radical change in this area than are unionists
who favor the continuation of a unitary RUC.
The issue of how best to develop effective policing
structures will be one of the most contentious issues the Patten
Commission will face. Human rights activists have argued that
whatever structures are developed for the future of policing,
these must be tested for their potential to protect civil liberties
and human rights.
Proposals about the future form and structure of policing in
Northern Ireland will presumably form part of the political
negotiations. It is very important, however, that such
discussions not be restricted solely to politicians but that there is a
wide-ranging discussion of how best we want to ensure
effective policing in the future. The international research
provides a series of very important principles which provide the
framework against which any structural model proposed.
should be measured.8°
E. The Symbols
While there is a degree of consensus on the need for a more
balanced police service in terms of representation, for improved
structures of accountability, and for some devolution of police
decision-making, suggestion of making change to the symbols of
policing remains an anathema to the unionist parties. The
name of the force and the question of whether it should be
changed have been particular bones of contention. The name
Royal Ulster Constabulary is disliked by nationalists for several
reasons-"Royal" because of the identification with the British
monarchy and because the title was granted to the Irish police
force for its fight against the Fenian movement in the 1860s and
"Ulster" because it refers only to the six counties of Northern
Ireland rather than to the historic province of Ulster that
incorporates nine counties. For many unionists, police officers, and
families, to change the name would be an insult to those who
have been injured or killed. For nationalists, a change of name,
80. O'RAwE & MoORE, supra note 8, at 208.
while less important than structural and procedural change,
would demonstrate commitment to a fresh start. It is
unsurprising that at public meetings there was no consensus between
different communities on the issue of names or symbols. However,
the Alliance Party and the Northern Ireland Women's
Coalition" l have argued for changes in the symbols of policing to
encourage cross-community support.
Human Rights Principles: The Minimum Standardfor Change
It is clear from the above discussion that the Commission on
Policing has difficult decisions to make and must be sensitive in
the way that it puts forward its recommendations. Some
decisions will undoubtedly be based on the Commission's
understanding of what recommendations it is politically possible to
secure consensus on. It is important, however, that the
Commission bases its final report on the incorporation of internationally
accepted minimum standards of human rights. These rights
should not be used as political bargaining chips; they are
minimum standards that the U.K. Government has a duty to uphold.
Indeed, the implementation of international law and the
recommendations of international human rights bodies are a
government responsibility and do not need to await the Patten
Commission report. Had the Blair Government taken a principled
decision to implement the recommendations of the United Nations
Committee Against Torture, for example, this would
demonstrate a commitment to human rights and would depoliticize the
issues to a great extent.
The piece of international legislation that relates most
specially to the work of policing organizations is the United Nations
Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials ("Code").82
The Code insists that policing must respect human rights and
human dignity and that domestic law make specific reference to
the relevant international and regional standards in this regard.
81. The Alliance Party and the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition argued their
positions with cross-community membership and support. NORTHERN IRELAND
WOMEN'S COALITION, supra note 64, at 6; ALLIANCE PARTY, ORAL SUBMISSION GIVEN TO THE
COMMISSION ON POLICING (Oct. 15, 1998).
82. The United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials ("Code")
was adopted in December 17, 1979.
Were the Code to be incorporated into domestic legislation
governing policing in the new Northern Ireland, it would offer
increased protection for civilians against the abuse of human
rights by the police.
Also important is the United Nations Basic Principles on the
Use of Force." These principles provide guidance on the use of
force and on accountability mechanisms for ensuring that force
is not over-used or misused by the authorities. The standards set
down by the United Nations in this document have been
routinely flouted in Northern Ireland through the use of plastic
Other international standards such as the United Nations
Convention on the Rights of the Child,85 if incorporated into
domestic legislation, would give protection and a form of legal
redress to some of the most vulnerable members of our society.
Children, as young as ten, have been subject to emergency
legislation, and young people have regularly been used by the RUC
as "informers," putting their lives in real danger. The
Commission must look at this broad range of issues and test its
recommendations against how they will meet the needs of the most
marginalized and vulnerable sections of the communities in
The signing of the Belfast Agreement, the paramilitary
cease-fires, the work of the Commission on Policing, and the
review of the Criminal Justice system all provide perhaps the best
chance to date in Northern Ireland to create a more equitable
and just policing process and justice system. To make proposals
based on a return to "normal" policing, which has never existed
in Northern Ireland, would be a waste of this opportunity. It is
to be hoped that the Commission will produce a report based on
international standards of best practice in policing and with full
protection of human rights.
83. The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force ("Principles") was
adopted in 1990.
84. COMMITTEE ON THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE, THE MISRULE OF LAw: A
REPORT ON THE POLICING OF EVENTS DURING THE SUMMER OF 1996 IN NORTHERN IRELAND
(1996); COMMITTEE ON THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE, POLICING THE POLICE: A
REPORT ON THE POLICING OF EvENTS DURING THE SUMMER OF 1997 IN NORTHERN IRELAND
(1997); AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL, supra note 19.
85. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was established in
1989, and ratified by the U.K. Government in 1991.
The question cited at the start of this chapter poses the
3. See POLICE AUTHORITY NORTHERN ISLAND , POLICING - A NEW BEGINNING: A SUBMISSION BY THE POLICE AUTHORITY NORTHERN IRELAND TO THE INDEPENDENT COMMISSION ON POLICING 3 (Dec . 1998 ) (giving figure of police deaths from Police Authority of Northern Ireland) .
4. These powers have included the Special Powers Act 1922, the Emergency Provisions Act 1996, and the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1996 .
5. See generally KATHLEEN MAGEE &JOHN BREWER, INSIDE THE RUC ( 1991 ) (describing in detail ethnographic study that describes tension between RUC's role in carrying out "normal" policing functions and paramilitary policing).
6. Id. at 6.
7. HER MAJESTY'S INSPECTORATE OF CONSTABULARY , PRIMARY INSPECTION : ROYAL ULSTER CONSTABULARY ( 1996 ).
8. MARY O'RAwE & DR. LINDA MOORE , COMMITTEE ON THE ADMINISTRATIONJUSTICE, HUMAN RIGHTS ON DUTY - PRINCIPLES FOR BETTER POLICING: INTERNATIONAL LESSONS FOR NORTHERN IRELAND ch . 4 ( 1997 ).
9. Id. ch. 3; COMMITTEE ON THE ADMINISTRATION OFJUSTICE, A FRESH LOOK AT COMPLAINTS AGAINST THE POLICE ( 1993 ).
10. O' RAwE & MOORE, supra note 8, ch. 3; HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH/HELSINKI, To SERVE WITHOUT FAVOR: POLICING, HUMAN RIGHTS AND ACCOUNTABILITY IN NORTHERN IRELAND ( 1997 ).
11. O'RAWE & MOORE, supra note 8, chs. 1 , 2 ; Graham Ellison , Professionalism in the Royal Ulster Constabulary: An Examination of the Institutional Discourse ( 1997 ) (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation , University of Ulster) (on file with author).
12. O'RAwE & MOORE , supra note 8; Ellison, supra note 11; DR. ROBBIE MCVEIGH , COMMITTEE ON THE ADMINISTRATION OFJUSTICE, IT'S PART OF LIFE HERE: THE SECURITY FORCES AND HARASSMENT IN NORTHERN IRELAND ( 1994 ).
13. SeeJOHN STALKER , STALKER: SHOOT TO KILL AND THE AFFAIR ( 1988 ) (describing
19. See AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL , UNITED KINGDOM : SUBMISSION BY AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL TO THE INDEPENDENT COMMISSION ON POLICING FOR NORTHERN IRELAND 14-16 (Nov . 1998 ) (discussing inquiry by John Stevens, Deputy Constable of Cambridgeshire, into allegations of collusion between members of RUC and Loyalist Paramilitaries) .
20. Report on the Mission of the Special Rapporteurto the United Kingdom of GreatBritain and Northern Ireland, submitted pursuant to Commission on Human Rights, 54th Sess ., Agenda Item 8, U.N. Doc . E/CN.4/ 1998 /39/Add.4 ( Mar . 5, 1998 ).
21. Conclusions and Recommendations of the United Nations Committee Against Torture , U.N. Doc . A/53/44 ( 1998 ).
22. Committee on the Rights of the Child, Considerationof Reports submitted by States Parties under Article 44 of the Convention , CRC/C/15/Add.34 ( Jan . 1997 ).
23. Agreement Reached in the Multi-Party Negotiations , Apr. 10 , 1998 , Policing and Justice 1 [hereinafter Belfast Agreement].
28. Id ., Rights , Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity, Comparable Steps by the Irish Government 9 .
29. Ireland v. United Kingdom , 25 Eur. Ct. H.R. ( ser. A) at 5 ( 1978 ); Brogan v . United Kingdom , 145 Eur. Ct. H.R. (ser. B) at 12 ( 1989 ); Murray v . United Kingdom , 300 Eur. Ct. H.R. at 29 ( 1995 ).
30. The Agreement, JUST NEws (Bulletin of the Committee on the Administration of Justice, Belfast , Northern Ireland), Apr . 1998 . vol. 13 , no. 4.