Public Processions and Parades -
|Expressing a Preliminary View|
|Making Formal Determinations|
|Review of Decision or Determination|
1.1 The Public Processions Etc (Northern Ireland) Act introduces new arrangements for regulating public processions in Northern Ireland. In particular, Section 2(2) provides that the Parades Commission may:
(a) facilitate mediation between parties to particular disputes concerning proposed public processions and take such other steps as appear to the Commission to be appropriate for resolving such disputes.
(b) issue determinations with respect to particular proposed public processions.
1.2 These Rules are produced in compliance with Section 4 of the Act which requires the Commission to issue Procedural Rules explaining how it will exercise these functions. It should be read in conjunction with the Guidelines document which outlines the factors which the Commission will take into account in reaching decisions on whether conditions are to be imposed on parades. They explain how the Parades Commission will:
accumulate information about the various factors detailed in the Guidelines; hear the views of supporters and opposers of parades; express an informal broad view of the overall pattern of parades in the areas in which they are contentious; and issue formal determinations on individual parades within a fixed timescale.
1.3 In most areas a pattern has emerged of parades held on a regular cycle. Where these are contentious, a corresponding pattern of protest activity has developed. The Parades Commission will therefore examine the situation in those areas in which experience of previous years suggests that disputes are most likely and decide which parades will be considered. By taking into account the factors in the Guidelines, the Commission will aim to express an early informal view on a pattern of parades for the year ahead.
1.4 To achieve this, Commissioners will be allocated to individual locations to consider the available information and form a preliminary view on the outcome. These views will be pooled and the Commission will express an informal broad view of what it sees as on overall pattern of parades in contentious areas across Northern Ireland. By doing this, the Commission will aim to stimulate early constructive debate on parades and help to defuse tensions. This approach is entirety consistent with the North Report's recommendations.
1.5 Once notice of individual parades has been served, the Commission will make a formal decision on each. This will confirm whether it is the intention to issue a legally binding determination imposing conditions on those parades. Of course the process can be stopped at any stage in any location if the Commission is satisfied that there is no longer a dispute and that contention surrounding a parade or series of parades has been removed by the achievement of a secure local accommodation between the key parties. This remains the Commission's preferred outcome.
1.6 Where it comes to light during the course of the year that a dispute
has arisen in a location in which, hitherto, parades had not been contested,
the Commission will decide whether to implement the process described below.
It will also be for the Commission to determine which elements of the process
outlined below are appropriate in the time available.
2. Gathering Information
2.1 In order fully to take into account all the relevant factors, it will be necessary for the Commission to have access to a comprehensive range of information about the parades and the areas in which they are held. This will include, as background, details of:
past parades, together with details of the routes, the number of participants and bands and the past record of conduct of the parade and any related protest; the demographic mix of the local community both on the parade route and in the immediate vicinity of the parade; the local area and the key points on the parade routes such as churches and any landmarks of sensitive historic significance.
This will be compiled in a variety of ways. In the first instance, individuals
will be authorised by the Commission to act on its behalf (Authorised Officers)
in gathering information. Research may also be commissioned to augment
that information. In addition, Commissioners will visit the location of
the parade and familiarise themselves with its main features. Authorised
Officers will also have responsibility for making contact and building
relationships with local groups including parade organisers and residents'
associations and taking steps to secure local accommodation in relation
to disputes. They will also report to the Commission on the potential for
achieving such accommodation.
3. Taking Evidence
3.1 The Parades Commission will wish to hear views on individual parades, or a series of parades in a location, from those most concerned with those parades and also from the significant wider community where parades take place. In each location, therefore, the Commission will advertise locally its intention to take evidence in private sessions. Advertisements will appear at least 7 days before the planned sessions and the Commission will aim to secure a venue or venues for these sessions which are acceptable to the broad community in the area. The Commission may also, at its discretion, invite specific individuals, groups or organisations, including the RUC, to give evidence.
3.2 Evidence will be given on an entirely voluntary basis. It will be heard by the Commissioners allocated to the particular location who may wish to question those attending about the content or background of any statement made, or for clarification of any answer given. Each session will be recorded verbatim. The method for recording evidence will vary but may include the use of tape-recording equipment.
3.3 In addition to the submission of oral evidence, written evidence may be received at any time up to 10 working days ahead of the date on which the parade to which it refers is due to take place.
3.4 All evidence, both written and oral, will be treated as confidential
and only for the use of the Commission, its staff and Authorised Officers.
The Commission, however, reserves the right to express unattributed general
views heard in evidence but only as part of its explanation of a decision
in any final determination.
4. Expressing a Preliminary View
4.1 When Commissioners are satisfied that they have considered all the available information relating to the factors in the Guidelines concerning one or a number of parades in a location, the Commission will take a preliminary view about parades in that location. This will relate to the question of whether, and the extent to which conditions might be imposed on any or all of the parades in the location. Where it has not proved possible to achieve unanimity on those decisions, a majority view will be recorded. No preliminary decision will be publicised until the fact-finding and information gathering processes have been completed at all the known contentious locations. At this stage the Commission's overall findings will be promulgated. In making this announcement, the Commission will stress that these findings represent the Commission's preliminary views and are not legally binding . Any legal determination of the Commission would be made after receipt of the formal notification for a parade.
4.2 In the interim period between the announcement of the Commission's
preliminary views and making formal decisions the Commission may take account
of any fresh oral or written evidence on parades up to 10 working days
before the date on which the parade is due to be held. In hearing any oral
evidence the Commission will, as far as is possible, aim to adhere to the
procedures outlined in paragraph 3.2 above.
5. Making Formal Determinations
5.1 The statutory period for which notice of intention to hold a parade must be given is 28 days. On receipt of the formal notification for each contested parade the police will ensure that a copy is received by the Parades Commission within 24 hours. The Secretariat will consider the features of the parade and draw to the Commission's attention any major changes in, for example, the route, size or purpose, by comparison with previous years. Commissioners will consider this together with any further evidence within the 10 days preceding the parade.
5.2 The Commissioners will also at this stage consider fresh advice from the RUC about the extent to which the parade in its proposed form would result in public disorder or damage to property. Having taken into account all the relevant information, evidence and advice, the Commission will meet to decide whether to issue a legally binding determination imposing conditions on the organisers of the parade. That decision will be taken by a majority vote. It will be the aim of the Commission, where possible, to make its decision five working days in advance of the notified date of a parade and to provide written notification of that decision, and the basis for it, to:
(i) The Organisers.
(ii) The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
(iii) The Chief Constable.
(iv) Other Concerned Parties.
5.3 Where, for whatever reason, the Chairman of the Commission is absent from such a meeting, the members shall elect one of those present to act as Chairman for the meeting. In addition, where, because of the number of Commissioners present it is not possible to secure a majority vote, the Chairman shall have a casting vote. As a minimum, all formal decisions will be taken by a quorum of three, of whom at least one should be a Commissioner who formed the preliminary view of parading in that location.
5.4 The Commission may also, at its discretion, inform other individuals,
groups or organisations who, either due to their involvement in attempts
at achieving local accommodation or other similar activity, may reasonably
expect to be informed.
6 Review of Decision or Determination
6.1 In exceptional circumstances, fresh information might come to light which the Commission might consider to be sufficient to require a review of its formal decision. In such circumstances the Commission will consider the original information, evidence and advice, together with the new information, and by a majority vote come to a decision. This decision will either confirm the initial format decision or may, where a determination has been issued, amend or revoke any element of that determination. Where, for whatever reason, the Chairman of the Commission is absent from such a meeting the members shall elect one of those present to act as Chairman for the meeting. In addition, where, because of the number of Commissioners present it is not possible to secure a majority vote, the Chairman shall have a casting vote.
6.2 Where the Commission has decided to change its decision, it will provide the earliest possible written notification to those outlined in paragraph 5.2 above.
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