PSNI's inquest files system probed
An independent review is set to be commissioned to examine how the police handle the controversial issue of disclosing files to legacy inquests.
The PSNI has come in for heavy criticism over the length of time officers are taking to security-vet papers relating to historic Troubles killings being examined by the coroner's court.
Northern Ireland's Senior Coroner John Leckey has repeatedly expressed concerns and last week warned that some of the 60 outstanding cases may even have to be halted due to the logjam.
PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton has countered by insisting his primary focus has to be policing the present and has also complained that the coroner will not prioritise the inquests to enable officers to concentrate on them one by one.
The PSNI's oversight body, the NI Policing Board, has now agreed to ask Stormont's Justice Minister David Ford to commission an independent assessment of the PSNI's procedures.
Mr Ford will now likely ask either Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) or the Criminal Justice Inspection (CJI) to undertake a review.
The move was announced at the board's monthly meeting in Belfast by chairwoman Anne Connolly.
"We hope this will provide some clarity and public assurance around issues relating to redactions, resources and the prioritisation of cases," she said.
Mr Hamilton welcomed the request for review but he also warned of potential further delays.
"We have had many discussions in recent weeks on the issue of legacy inquests and disclosure and I welcome the board's recommendation of an independent review," he said.
"Delay has been a chronic feature of the inquest process and it is having a corrosive effect on public confidence in policing today. I would hope that this review will go some way to assisting us with this challenge."
He added: "Unless alternative solutions are found, my very real fear is that delays will increase as the coronial inquest workload increases and the impact of the budget cuts continue to take their effect.
"I understand the Executive will be taking appropriate steps to improve the legacy inquest function and I welcome that. They will have my full support in finding a longer term solution to this issue."
One of the most contentious hold-ups relates to the inquest into the murder of a GAA official Sean Brown almost 20 years ago.
The 61-year-old was abducted and shot by loyalist paramilitaries after locking up a GAA club in Bellaghy, Co Londonderry, in May 1997.
Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris today told the board meeting that the PSNI's long-running work on the case files has now been completed.