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Thursday, 23 November, 2000, 17:18 GMT
RUC Reform: What the Act says
The government published the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill on 16 May 2000 following the recommendations of the Patten Report on Police Reform in Northern Ireland. The legislation was given Royal Assent on 23 November 2000.

Presenting the Bill to Parliament, Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson said that it would deliver on reforming the police to ensure that the service wins the confidence of all sections of the community.

However, it has remained controversial ever since - and failed to win the support of the nationlist parties.

Click on the links to read the main points of the Bill.

  • Name and symbols
  • Special recruitment measures
  • Oath and code of ethics
  • The Northern Ireland Policing Board
  • District policing partnerships
  • Accountability and inquiry
  • Police planning

    The most controversial area of the Act is proposals to change the name of the force, its symbols and the use of the flag.

    Patten recommended that the RUC name should be replaced with an entirely neutral description and that there should be a new cap badge entirely free of association with the British or Irish states.

    It also recommended that the Union Flag should no longer be flown from police buildings.

    On 19 January 2000 Mr Mandelson said that he wanted the force to be known as the "Police Service of Northern Ireland", in line with the Patten recommendations.

    Conservatives and Unionists said this was unacceptable and disrespectful to the 302 officers who had been killed in paramilitary attacks. Nationalists and republicans, who broadly supported Patten, said that the name had to change in order for their communities to have confidence in the force.

    Mr Mandelson attempted to square this circle by removing this crucial decision from the hands of MPs.

    Instead, the government inserted a clause in the Act putting this decision in the hands of the Secretary of State, after consultation with the policing board and taking into account the needs to secure a force "representative of the population".

    A further clause also leaves the fate of flags and symbols in the hands of the Secretary of State.

    Unfortunately, this appears to have pleased no one.

    The Ulster Unionists attempted various amendments to the legislation during its passage to win the battle over the name. In the Lords they tabled an amendment to set the name as: as the "Royal Ulster Constabulary - Police Service of Northern Ireland" but it failed.

    Unionists did succeed in ensuring that the Act includes provision to establish The Royal Ulster Constabulary George Cross Foundation, marking the "sacrifices and honouring the achievements of the Royal Ulster Constabulary".

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    The Patten report recommended that while the chief constable should remain responsible for recruitment, the actual process should be handed to an outside agency.

    The Act requires the chief constable to appoint an agency and there are measures included in the legislation to involve lay representation in recruitment and scrutiny of decisions to reject candidates.

    One of the key objectives for reforming of the policing in Northern Ireland is to vastly increase the numbers of officers drawn from the catholic community - currently massively under-represented in the force.

    Crucially, though often unspoken, is the alleged influence of the IRA and other organisations on Catholic recruitment.

    Unionist critics of the legislation predict republican paramilitary leaders will intimidate members of their community to prevent them joining the police service if they are unsatisfied with its provisions.

    Republicans respond that for years Catholics have refused to join a force that they saw as representing a sectarian Protestant state and not a legitimate defender of their rights and communities.

    Secondly, the composition of the new force may be a critical factor in any future decision by the IRA to change its policy from putting arms "beyond use" to actual decommissioning of weapons.

    The Act requires the chief constable to appoint new constables, from a pool of qualified candidates, and to ensure that half of these are catholic.

    The secretary of state has the power, after consultation with the policing board, to modify the recruitment ratio to correct any imbalance where insufficient candidates have come forward from one section of the community.

    The service will be required to recruit part time reserve officers locally.

    The measures will expire after three years unless they are renewed by the secretary of state after consultation with the police board - a provision that has provoked strong opposition from Sinn Fein.

    To enable these new recruitment procedures to be carried out and to comply with a Patten report recommendation to reduce the overall size of the service in line with seeking to create a normal policing situation, around 4,500 officers will have to leave over 10 years.

    The secretary of state will have the power to introduce a voluntary early retirement and early severance scheme which will include pension enhancements and special compensatory lump sums.

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    The Act sets out that the police service's general duties are to protect life, property, preserve order, prevent crime and to bring offenders to justice.

    In addition to this, officers will be required to have regard to a code of ethics issued by the chief constable.

    The Act also requires officers to carry out their duties with the aim of securing the confidence and participation of all communities in Northern Ireland.

    The policing board will have the power to be able to call on a senior officer to retire in the interests of "efficiency and effectiveness" of the service, with the approval of the secretary of state.

    The secretary of state also has the power to require the board to ask the chief constable to step down.

    The Act requires recruits to swear a declaration before a magistrate that requires officers to uphold human rights and to perform their duties with "fairness" and "impartiality".

    This is a key area of dispute. Nationalist politicians say that all officers, including those already serving in the force, should be required swear an oath.

    Officers will also be required to register membership of organisations which represent only one section of the community, such as the protestant Orange Order, the Catholic Ancient Order of Hibernians.

    The chief constable will be responsible for drawing up a code of ethics in consultation with the policing board, the Police Association, the secretary of state and other parties deemed to have an interest in the matter.

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    The Act creates a new Policing Board for Northern Ireland to replace the Police Authority for Northern Ireland.

    The legislation makes provision for the appointment of its members under devolved government or during direct rule, should the Northern Ireland Assembly be suspended or withdrawn at a future point.

    The Board will have 19 members, 10 of which will be nominated from the Northern Ireland Assembly using its "d'Hondt system" of proportionally allocating places to represent all sections of the community.

    The remaining nine members will be appointed directly by the Secretary of State and the minister is responsible that the board is representative of all communities.

    During suspension of devolved government all members will be appointed by the Secretary of State.

    The board will be required to hold the Chief Constable to account and monitor and assess the service's performance - including its compliance with the Human Rights Act.

    One of the most significant objections to this part of the Act came from unionists and the Conservatives. The Conservatives argued at the Second Reading that there were inadequate safeguards to prevent people convicted of terrorism from either sitting on the Policing Board or district partnerships.

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    Each district council in Northern Ireland will establish a district policing partnership for its area - another area of great controversy in the Act.

    The Secretary of State retains the power to empower the policing board to establish a partnership where one does not already exist.

    The legislation describes the partnerships as having primarily a "consultative" role.

    Each local authority partnership would reflect the balance of an area's political composition.

    The partnerships will express views, monitor performance against local and Northern Ireland targets and act as a general forum for debate.

    Each board will also work directly with a local police commander and, in partnership with this officer, produce and publish an annual report.

    Opposition to this part of the Act came from Conservatives and some Unionists.

    They argued that local politicians linked to the paramilitary organisations of both sides would be nominated to the partnerships, effectively giving armed groups a say in civil policing. The anti-agreement Democratic Unionists have been the most vocal opponents, predicting that in some areas, policing would be "handed over to the IRA".

    That's a charge that the government rejected as fanciful.

    Nationalists and the Liberal Democrats have also supported the partnerships as a legitimate way of allowing communities that have felt excluded from policing to become part of it.

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    The Act requires the chief constable to submit a report on any policing matter to the policing board at its request.

    However, the chief constable can refer a request for a report to the secretary of state if it concerns a matter of national security, of sensitive personal nature, ongoing court cases or investigations or matters "which would prejudice the detection of crime of the administration of justice".

    Following the submission of a report, the policing board will have the power to order an inquiry if it considers the matter to be grave or there are what it considers to be "exceptional circumstances".

    Twelve of the 19 board members must support the establishment of an inquiry.

    However, a crucial departure from the Patten report is that the secretary of state will have the power to prevent or halt an inquiry if he or she concludes that it would not be in the interests of "the efficiency or effectiveness of the police service".

    Critics of this element say that it completely undermines the Patten report's aim of creating a police board firmly embedded in the community whch can hold the police to account and play a key role in its functions and working relationship with other agencies.

    The Act goes on to say that the board cannot conduct inquiries into events prior to its establishment.

    The Act provides for a new policing ombudsman to report on matters of concern to the policing board and chief constable.

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    The secretary of state will set broad strategic objectives for the police service after consultation with the policing board and chief constable.

    Once these are outlined, the board will set more detailed objectives.

    Every year the chief constable will be expected to draft a policing plan. This will be submitted to the board which will be able to amend it, subject to consultation with the chief constable and the secretary of state.

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  • Read BBC News Online's full special report on policing reform in Northern Ireland

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