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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 February, 2005, 11:02 GMT
Ombudsman's powers 'should widen'
Nuala O'Loan
Nuala O'Loan's office was set up in 2000
The powers of NI Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan's office should be extended, a parliamentary committee has said.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee said her office should be allowed to decide if a complaint was suitable for mediation rather than a formal inquiry.

The all-party committee advised against creating an independent body to deal with complaints about the ombudsman.

It criticised the government for not providing her with formal guidance when the role was first established in 2000.

The ombudsman's role was created as part of a package of policing reforms to provide an impartial and independent system for investigating complaints against the police.

Performance and effectiveness

The committee's recommendations are the result of its first inquiry into Mrs O'Loan's office.

After a year-long study to assess its performance and effectiveness, the report published on Wednesday found that significant progress has been made in establishing an effective complaints system.

It praised the dedication and leadership of Mrs O'Loan, and criticised the government for failing to provide formal guidance in the critical first months of the ombudsman's operation.

The report also acknowledged that the office of ombudsman still had weaknesses which needed to be improved upon.

In particular, the committee was struck by the fact that an expensive IT system had to be replaced after only four years because it was not suitable for its task.

It was also concerned by the "very low level of confidence" which police officers and their representative bodies had in the ombudsman, "in particular, their perception that the system is neither impartial nor fair".

"Everything possible must be done to improve officers' confidence in the present system of complaints," the committee added.

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