Police in the North have outperformed all UK police forces in their efforts to comply with human rights demands, a new report claimed today.
Nevertheless, legal advisers for the authority that holds the force to account stresses the need maintain an on-going awareness of human rights issues.
In its first assessment of the force’s performance, the Northern Ireland Policing Board examined 12 key areas.
Lawyers Keir Starmer QC and Jane Gordon praised the Police Service of Northern Ireland for its attempts to meet challenges laid down by law.
Their report said: “In our view, the PSNI has done more than any police service in the UK to achieve human rights compliance, and in many respects we have been very impressed with the work the PSNI has undertaken in the human rights field.
“The fact that a range of recommendations have been made does not mean we have found widespread lack of compliance with the Human Rights Act.”
The board’s representatives completed a study on how the service was coping with integrating the 1998 Human Rights Act.
Police compliance has been strengthened by an internal Code of Ethics introduced as part of attempts to reform the force, they found.
A framework for checking police performance was developed and published by Mr Starmer and Ms Gordon in December 2003.
Those guidelines, and the recommendations emerging from the new report, focused on areas including the police programme of action and effectiveness of human rights training.
They were given unrestricted access to officers and police documentation, and attended events and incidents as they happened.
Meetings were also held with all relevant statutory bodies and a range of interested groups.
As well as officers adherence to the Code of Ethics, other issues included public order situations; use of force; covert policing; victims’ rights; the treatment of suspects; and human rights awareness among officers.
In future reports, the advisers will be focusing on privacy, data protection and the impact of human rights on the role of local District Policing Partnerships.
“Whilst a high numbers of officers across all ranks and with varying lengths of service demonstrate a good base-level knowledge of human rights, the PSNI must ensure that officers maintain, develop and apply that knowledge in their work.
“It is therefore essential that human rights principles are fully integrated into all aspects of PSNI training and areas of concern identified in relation to training and other areas of this report are given urgent attention.”
Policing Board Chairman, Desmond Rea, said the report was the first of its kind in UK policing.
“In the last three years, significant progress has been made by the PSNI in moving the human rights agenda forward, and this work is to be commended,” he added.
“Human Rights is a fundamental element in policing, and achieving and maintaining these standards is a critical factor for community confidence in the delivery of the policing service.
“The report published today will be used by the Board as a benchmark for moving forward on the human rights agenda and we will be discussing with the Chief Constable how the recommendations made in the report will be progressed.”