Human rights and the PSNI rehiring scandal

RightsNI is delighted to welcome this guest post from Daniel Holder, Deputy Director,  Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ).

This week saw the much awaited publication of the Audit Office Report into the ‘rehiring’ practices of the PSNI (Report here; BBC coverage here), a matter on which CAJ and others had been asking questions for some time – including, since 2004, the Policing Board itself which has expressed its concerns in no uncertain terms that information had been kept in it.

Below is a link to an article published by CAJ back in March of this year on the rehiring issue and our most urgent human rights compliance concern namely the conflict of interests some re-hired staff may have between their past and present roles, in particular in relation to roles in the investigative chain for legacy investigations. As outlined in the article the requirements of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) mean police officers or other state agents should not be in a position to influence investigations into matters in which they themselves, their former units or colleagues may be implicated. In particular CAJ has raised the scenario when investigations by the Police Ombudsman or Historical Enquires Team (HET) as well as Inquests or other judicial procedures engage the activities of police agents, yet former special branch officers are involved in providing the intelligence data on which the same investigations are reliant.

CAJ provided evidence to the Audit Office and its report does directly addresses the issue. Referring to ‘conflicts of interest’ of rehired officers in relation to the HET the Audit Office recommends further measures are introduced, including a  that all members of an investigative team are required to formally ‘declare their independence’ at the outset of an investigation (paragraph 3.18 of the report).

The Audit Office indicates that at present procedures are limited to former RUC officers declaring if they had previously been involved in the RUC investigation into the same case. This does not extend into examining any conflicts of interest in relation to otherwise being able to influence investigations through control of the intelligence and other records on which they rely. The Audit Office report finds of all PSNI Department’s the Crime Operations Branch, which includes the C3 Intelligence Branch, has the second highest  number of rehired officers (figure 7; p23)  and that of persons rehired to work as Intelligence Officers’ 97% were former retired officers (figure 14; p35).

From CAJ’s perspective, in addition to the broader equality and accountability questions, there are still outstanding question in relation to conflicts of interests and past and present roles in relation to several units of the PSNI which engage legacy investigations namely:

  • the PSNI Legacy Support Unit, which provides information to Inquests and Inquiries;
  • the HET (outside participation in direct investigation teams);
  • working with or servicing the PSNI Legacy Gold Group;
  • other parts of the PSNI who have responsibilities for providing records and other data to inform legacy investigations.

See the earlier article in March 2012 Just News: PSNI REHIRING SCANDAL: towards Historical ‘Impunity’ Teams?