Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Human rights no impediment to policing riots

I AM writing with reference to an article you published on August 13 under the headline 'Time to face down thugs bent on chaos' by Laurence Robertson, chair of the Northern Ireland affairs select committee.

Mr Robertson refers to a perception that human rights legislation is hampering the PSNI and preventing officers from arresting people at the scene of public disorder incidents.

He states: "The police need to be able to act as they would in Great Britain."

This is misleading, as all police services in the United Kingdom, not just the PSNI, must comply with the Human Rights Act 1998 (which does not prohibit arrest at the scene of an incident of disorder).

If faced with policing similar public disorder, other police services would be required to operate within the same human rights legal framework as the PSNI.

However, the best tactical decision as regards arrest during public disorder in, for example, London would not necessarily be the best tactical decision during disorder in Belfast.

Public order scenarios often present very different policing challenges.

Police here do not operate in the same environment as police elsewhere do, as recognised by the fact that PSNI officers have additional stop and search powers to their counterparts in Great Britain.

They are also routinely armed and they have a range of specialised weapons at their disposal, including water cannon.

In the interests of parity with Great Britain, would Mr Robertson have the PSNI hand these back?

The PSNI's approach to public order policing has been nationally and internationally commended.

Senior PSNI officers have said that the Human Rights Act provides officers with a clear framework for making difficult and challenging decisions.

In spite of this, your newspaper appears to have adopted an editorial policy whereby human rights are persistently criticised as being an impediment to policing.

The Policing Board will continue to challenge this and highlight the lack of substance to those claims.

ANNE CONNOLLY

Chair, Northern Ireland Policing Board

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