Policing body plans ‘watered down’

The Government has “watered down” its initial proposals for an independent Policing Authority, including the removal of specific provisions making the commissioner accountable to it, according to a legal expert.

Vicky Conway, a senior lecturer in law at the University of Kent, said she is concerned that new legislation will not be enough to end the “cycle of scandal-reform, scandal-reform” that has beset the force.

“My general concern is it’s a watered-down version of what was proposed last November,” said Dr Conway. “I still need to go through it in more detail, but I’m not convinced this is what’s going to fix things.”

She said three issues stood out for her, the first being the deletion of a key provision making the commissioner accountable to the authority on policing matters.

The General Scheme of the Garda Síochána (Amendment) Bill, published last November, contained a provision that a function of the Policing Authority was to “hold the Garda Commissioner to account for policing matters”.

The provision is not contained in the Garda Síochána (Policing Authority) Bill 2015, published by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald on Monday.

“That original proposal, that the commissioner is going to be accountable to the authority, that’s gone,” said Dr Conway.

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“I think it undermines the authority. If things go well and there is a good relationship and the commissioner is happy to answer questions then it might be OK, but the commissioner can decide not to answer.”

In addition, in the section on accountability, the General Scheme stated: “The Garda Commissioner shall account fully to the authority for any aspect of his or her functions relating to policing matters.”

In the final bill, this is changed to a reporting function: “The Garda Commissioner shall report to the authority with regard to policing services.”

The section does detail a duty on the commissioner to “provide, on request of the authority, any document relating to policing services” as well as obligations to keep it informed of matters.

Dr Conway said a second area of concern was the removal of the following function in the General Scheme: “Monitor and address the human rights compliance by the Garda Síochána in relation to policing matters.”

She said: “They have deleted that provision and I think that is equally significant to the commissioner issue.”

A third matter of concern is the authority’s role in budgets and oversight.

In the General Scheme, the authority would ensure that Garda resources were used to “maintain the highest levels of efficiency and effectiveness”.

In the final bill, that is changed to providing “advice to the minister” before each financial year with regard to the resources likely to be required.

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