Northern Ireland news

Policing Board human rights adviser 'should not have been let go'

Former Policing Board human rights adviser Alyson Kilpatrick pictured with PSNI chief Constable George Hamilton
Connla Young

A human rights expert has voiced concern after the Policing Board said it was unable to renew the contract of a key adviser and admitted it can no longer fulfil its statutory obligations.

Former human rights adviser Alyson Kilpatrick left her post last month.

Appointed in 2012, Ms Kilpatrick regularly provided expert legal opinion to the board and helped produce an annual human rights report.

The Policing Board has a responsibility to monitor the performance of the PSNI in complying with the Human Rights Act.

Human rights oversight is viewed as one of the most important functions of the board.

A spokeswoman for the board has claimed it did not have the authority to renew Ms Kilpatrick’s contract.

Colin Harvey, Professor of Human Rights Law at Queen’s University, said it was a "very worrying development".

“Human rights guarantees remain central to the ongoing process of policing reform.

“The Policing Board has a vital role in monitoring the performance of the PSNI and in holding the chief constable to account."

The academic said a solution needs to be found.

“This situation needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency to ensure that the board can continue to discharge its statutory responsibilities,” he said.

“This is no time to be undermining the centrality of human rights to the work of the policing service here."

In February this year, senior board figures including chair Anne Connolly were given delegated authority to take decisions across a range of areas following the collapse of the Stormont institutions.

Political representatives were not appointed to take their places on the board after the March assembly elections due to the political deadlock, although independent members have continued to meet in private.

Former SDLP Policing Board member Dolores Kelly said if officials were concerned about being unable to renew Ms Kilpatrick's contract, they should have written to party leaders and raised it through the media.

“Did they ask the Department for Justice for any dispensation?" she said.

“If they did not have delegated authority, did they seek it?"

Former Sinn Féin Policing Board member Gerry Kelly said “a human rights-based approach to policing is at the core of the Patten recommendations and the setting up of the PSNI”.

“The human rights advisor’s contract should have been extended at this time as it is a crucial component to the effective working of the board,” he said.

“The decision not to renew the contract should be reversed.”

A spokeswoman for the Policing Board said: “As previously stated, in the absence of a fully constituted Policing Board, it was not possible to extend the appointment period of the human rights advisor as there was no authority to do so.

“As previously advised, in February 2017 the then Board approved a limited programme of work (as a temporary measure) that could be progressed by the independent members in the absence of a fully constituted board.

“The appointment process to fill the human rights advisor role cannot be initiated until the board is again fully constituted.”

A spokesman for the PSNI said: “This is a matter for the Northern Ireland Policing Board.”

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