News that a review is to be held of how the PSNI policed the recent flag protests from a human rights perspective will puzzle many people.
With more than 100 officers injured during the protests and the police accused of not making a sufficiently robust response to the rioters, it would seem that the police on the front line were the only people in danger of having their human rights infringed – apart from the business people who suffered grievous financial losses during the disturbances.
Human rights, like health and safety, is often portrayed as some sort of cartoon villain. While this newspaper would not subscribe to that view, it is concerned that the PSNI, already under intense scrutiny because of the legacy of policing here, is now being hamstrung in carrying out its duties effectively. It notes the views of officers who say they are continually looking over their shoulder in case they have infringed some human rights legislation. They feel that forces in other regions of the UK are less hampered in their work.
Of course the human rights of people who find themselves confronted by the PSNI must be respected. Issues like the use of baton rounds in riot situations, the publication of photographs of young people suspected of being involved in crime or the retention of photographs of people taken into custody whether they are charged or not are matters which need to be subject to scrutiny. The observance of human rights should not be a weapon used to attack policing or restrict its responses to crime.
The new review seems questionable given that the PSNI's record on public disorder has already been the subject of scrutiny and the force was given high praise in a report published just yesterday. And there is regular liaison between the police and the Policing Board on the very issue of public order policing. These reviews do not come cheaply and there certainly would seem to be other areas where the money could be spent more productively.