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Human rights lawyer's £10,000 a month for human rights advice

A human rights lawyer is receiving more than £10,000 a month from the Northern Ireland Policing Board for consultancy advice, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

Almost £700,000 of public funds has been paid out over the past five years for human rights advice from three lawyers about the PSNI’s performance and policies. This sum includes £26,000 for expenses.

It has also emerged that the lawyers were awarded the contract without entering into any tendering competition.

The board’s current independent human rights adviser Alyson Kilpatrick — who was brought in as a consultant in 2008 — received more than £250,000 in her first two years.

She also received £21,000 in consultancy costs over a two-month period last year.

The level of expenditure on human rights lawyers has been questioned by Policing Board member Jimmy Spratt, who said he believed the money would be better allocated to essential front-line policing requirements.

Before Ms Kilpatrick was appointed, lawyers Keir Starmer QC, now the Director of Public Prosecutions in England and Wales, and Jane Gordon provided the human rights advice on a consultancy basis at a cost of £372,000 from 2005/06 to 2007/08.

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It is not known how many days of work the expenditure on human rights consultancy covers as the Policing Board said that “the information as requested is not available”.

The Policing Board defended the payments saying that the human rights adviser “advises the board on how well the PSNI are meeting their statutory obligations in relation to the Human Rights Act 1998”.

A spokeswoman said that as well as assisting the board report annually on its findings in areas such as PSNI use of force, police training, complaints and discipline, the adviser is also involved in supporting the board in various thematic reviews, which to date include domestic abuse and children and young people.

“The adviser also monitors the policing of public order events and provides ad hoc advice to the Policing Board on issues such as the PSNI's decision to introduce Taser and retention of DNA samples and profiles,” the spokeswoman added.

When contacted by the Belfast Telegraph, Ms Kilpatrick said she was not in a position to provide any additional information to that which the Policing Board had already supplied.

Mr Spratt, who obtained the information under the Freedom of Information Act, said: “Over the course of the last five years the Policing Board has spent almost £750,000 on human rights advisers — money that could have been allocated to essential frontline policing requirements like employing civilian staff to work in police stations, thereby providing more police officers on the beat.

“This is not a good use of public money given the very apparent lack of transparency and the fact that the board have suppressed information by not indicating the monthly costs of this contract.

“The public have a very clear right to know how this money is being expended and the number of hours involved, and how the matter is audited and authorised within the board.”

The PSNI has its own human rights advisers and does not have to adhere to the board’s recommendations.

Questions have also been raised over the use of single tender action to appoint the human rights lawyers.

The Policing Board’s policy states that “only in exceptional circumstances, where there are substantial and defensible reasons for so doing, should single tender actions be entered into”.

The board would not specify to this newspaper on what grounds it was agreed to use single tender action to appoint the human rights advisers.

A spokeswoman said, however: “Due to the nature of the work and the role provided to the board by the human rights adviser, single tender action has been granted for procurement of this service.”

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