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Foundations for Policing: Proposals for Policing Structures in Northern Ireland - Section 6

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Composition and method of appointment of the Police Authority for Northern Ireland

6.1Under the proposed new tripartite arrangements, PANI will have a strengthened role in representing the community and calling the police to account. It will be required to obtain the views of the community, reflect these to the Chief Constable and Secretary of State and evaluate the quality of police service delivered to the community.
6.2To fulfill this challenging role the Police Authority must be seen to be independent of the police and Government; and it must also be, and be seen to be, widely representative of all the people of Northern Ireland. Currently, under the Police Act (Northern Ireland) 1 970 the Police Authority must consist of a minimum of 14 and a maximum of 20 Members, a Chairman and Vice- Chairman, all appointed by the Secretary of State. The Act also requires that the Authority should be as representative as possible of the community, including in particular representatives of certain, specified interests. Those currently specified are :-
  • local authorities and other public bodies (including universities and other institutions of higher education);

  • the legal profession;

  • trade unions;

  • agriculture, industry and commerce: and

  • voluntary organisations having as their principal object, or one of their principal objects, the welfare of children or young persons.
6.3The way in which this appointment process has hitherto been carried out, combined with the secrecy which has had to surround PANI's activities in a terrorist situation, has led to a lack of community identification with the Authority and limited awareness of its role and functions. Commonly voiced complaints are that PANI lacks elected representatives; is anonymous; and does not adequately represent the totality of Northern Ireland society. Moreover the fact that certain interests have felt unable to lend their support to the Police Authority has impeded its ability adequately to represent the views of the whole of the community.
6.4In seeking to improve on current arrangements, changes to the composition of the new Police Authority must:
  • facilitate the inclusion of a wide representation of political, geographical and socioeconomic interests; and

  • result from a more open system of appointment.
6.5The process for appointing the membership must also be flexible to take account of the possibility of constitutional change resulting from any political settlement.
6.6Looking at the shorter term the membership of the Police Authority is due to be reconstituted in June of next year. This is likely to be done under existing legislation which requires the Secretary of State to appoint all members, including the Chairman and Vice-Chairman. However, following the appointment of the Independent Commissioner for Public Appointments in Northern Ireland, as recommended by the Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life, the re-constitution of the membership will be done in a more open manner. For example, potential members will be sought through open advertisement. In addition an advisory panel, which includes an element independent of Government, will make recommendations to the Secretary of State on those candidates whom they consider to be suitable in terms of ability, experience, and background for appointment to the Authority
6.7Looking ahead to changes which would involve legislation, the Government has noted both the suggestions for direct election of members of the Authority and the recommendations in PANI's Report on its community consultation exercise for a "more representative and effective body". The Government wholeheartedly supports the view expressed in the Report, "not to compromise the independence of the Police Authority and to ensure that the police service remains free from political or partisan control"
6.8The Government does not have concluded views on the future method of appointment and composition of the Authority but is minded to retain some of the existing features of the current system, adapted to allow greater involvement by other parties. Under such an arrangement, the Secretary of State would continue to appoint all the members of PANI, but local authorities, and academic, legal and community bodies, would be able to nominate some of the membership in a more formal manner. This would allow bodies, which are representative of sections of the community, a greater voice in selecting the members of the Authority. The arrangements must also reflect the Nolan requirements. Ultimately, appointment would remain the responsibility of the Secretary of State. This is in line with arrangements for all other executive bodies outside Central Government in Northern Ireland. Flexibility over, for instance, the number of members to be appointed and the range of interests which they must represent will also be introduced.
6.9The Government invites views and suggestions on this aspect of the proposed reforms.

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