Belfast Telegraph

Stalemate at Stormont blocks legal reform for PSNI high-speed chases

Monday’s Belfast Telegraph story
Monday’s Belfast Telegraph story

By David Young

Police officers in Northern Ireland will not be covered by reforms giving enhanced legal protection to officers involved in high-speed car chases - because there is no Stormont minister.

The reforms - announced by Home Secretary Sajid Javid - will cover England and Wales.

But because of the political impasse, there are no plans to introduce similar protections here.

Controversy was sparked this week when it was claimed that PSNI officers were reluctant to break speed limits in pursuit of ATM robbers, as their speed was recorded by in-car technology.

It was claimed they would then have to justify their excess speed to bosses or, if a collision occurred, could face criminal charges.

Last night, the Police Federation for Northern Ireland (PFNI) said it was concerned that PSNI officers could be "left behind" if Northern Ireland was excluded.

The Home Office carried out a public consultation on proposals to introduce a new legal test for police officers facing possible criminal charges after a high-speed chase.

The changes would mean an officer's driving is compared to that of a competent police driver with the same level of training performing the same role, rather than a member of the public.

They also aim to apply to all police officers trained to response driver level as well as advanced driver level, covering those pursuing criminals and also emergency police responders.

Mr Javid said: "It's vital police officers feel confident and protected when pursuing suspects on the roads or responding to an emergency.

"It's also crucial that we send a clear message that criminals ... cannot escape arrest simply by driving recklessly.

"These proposed changes will strike the right balance - giving trained officers the confidence they need to fight crime effectively and ensure our roads are safe."

Mark Lindsay, who chairs the PFNI, said PSNI officers "need to know that they will not be penalised for the efforts they make to apprehend wrongdoers".

"For too long, there has been something of a grey area for officers when it comes to pursuits and the steps now set out by the Home Secretary will give direction, clarity as well as the necessary legislative cover," he said.

"Unfortunately, we will have to wait until we have a restored Executive and Assembly before similar legislation can be enacted in Northern Ireland.

"On that basis, we may end up seeing officers in England and Wales given added protection while their counterparts here are left behind.

"This would be regrettable, but without functioning devolved structures, it's difficult to see how there could be any other outcome."

The Department for Infrastructure (DfI) is the organisation responsible for road traffic law in Northern Ireland.

A spokeswoman said last night: "We will be following developments but any decisions to follow suit would be a matter for an incoming DfI minister and a restored Executive."

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said: "We understand that this issue is being looked at nationally.

"Changes in law are a matter for politicians, however, and we will engage in any consultation should one be brought forward."

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