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Human rights review launched into police response to Covid-19 pandemic in Northern Ireland

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A review has been launched into the PSNI's response to the pandemic. Photo Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press

A review has been launched into the PSNI's response to the pandemic. Photo Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press

A review has been launched into the PSNI's response to the pandemic. Photo Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press

The Northern Ireland Policing Board has launched a review into the PSNI's response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

A human rights advisor has been tasked with reviewing how the PSNI has implemented new powers given to the force under coronavirus regulations introduced by the Executive during the pandemic.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 introduced by the Stormont Assembly states that no person may leave the place where they are living "without reasonable excuse".

The PSNI received criticism over its use of the powers, with confusion over whether police officers can prevent members of the public from travelling long distances for the purpose of exercise.

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd had previously said it was not a valid excuse under the regulations to travel long distances to take daily exercise.

Last month the Executive provided legal clarity, saying taking a long drive to get to a beach, or resort where numbers of people may gather is unlikely to be regarded as reasonable, even for exercise.

Loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson has launched a legal challenge against the PSNI interpretation and enforcement of Covid-19 regulations, taking particular issue with how the PSNI has interpreted regulations regarding travelling for exercise.

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Police on patrol and leaving leaflets for drivers who parked cars at Shaw's Bridge despite car park closures and advice to stay at home to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Photo Pacemaker Press

Police on patrol and leaving leaflets for drivers who parked cars at Shaw's Bridge despite car park closures and advice to stay at home to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Photo Pacemaker Press

Police on patrol and leaving leaflets for drivers who parked cars at Shaw's Bridge despite car park closures and advice to stay at home to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Photo Pacemaker Press

The review commissioned by the Policing Board will consider whether the use of the new powers is in accordance with the law and compliant with human rights, whether it is being used proportionately, whether PSNI training for officers is adequate, the impact on community confidence and whether there are any recommendations that should be made or lessons that can be learned.

The review will also look into the introduction of spit and bite guards.

The spread of Covid-19 in February and March and attacks on officers resulted in the Chief Constable Simon Byrne deciding to enhance the protection provided to his officers by temporarily introducing this equipment in custody suites.

He also provided them to officers who were involved in Covid-19 response crews and "cell van call signs".

The Policing Board document setting out the terms of reference for the review, said: "The Covid-19 emergency has resulted in police services throughout the UK and Ireland being given very significant new powers which impact on the rights of our society.

"Generally speaking, the public have accepted that these powers are necessary and appear to be complying with them.

"However, there have been examples across policing services of members of the public not understanding or adhering to the guidance and instances where police action or enforcement activity has not been proportionate.

"There has however been increasing negative public and media challenge to the legality of police actions, in particular around travel to exercise", the document states.

Chief Constable Simon Byrne said; “We welcome the Northern Ireland Policing Board review of the Police Service NI response to Covid-19 and our application of the Health Protections (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020.

"On 28 March 2020 we reluctantly accepted the extraordinary and significant emergency policing powers to protect the health of our community as together we battle the Covid-19 global pandemic.

"Our aim throughout has always been to encourage and support the public to fully comply with these necessary restrictions. We have worked in partnership with our colleagues in the NI Executive Office, the Department of Health and agencies across the public sector, including our outstanding health service workers to jointly fight the spread of the virus and look forward to the outcomes of the review so we can apply learning as we continue to keep people safe during this healthcare crisis.”

Belfast Telegraph