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Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2003

Section 13: Investigations into current police practices and policies

34.Section 51 of the 1998 Act established the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (“the Ombudsman”). Section 13 provides for investigations by the Ombudsman into current police practices and policies by inserting a new section 60A into the 1998 Act. This replaces with modifications the previous provision in section 61A of the 1998 Act (as inserted by section 63 of the 2000 Act), which provided for the Ombudsman to make reports to the Chief Constable and the Board on matters concerning police practices and policies.

35.The new section 60A provides that the Ombudsman may investigate a current practice or policy of the police that has come to his attention if he has reason to believe that such an investigation would be in the public interest (section 60A(1)). Section 60A(2) provides that he may not conduct such an investigation if the practice or policy is concerned with conduct that falls within the jurisdiction of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, set up by section 65 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (c.23).

36.If the Ombudsman decides to conduct an investigation under section 60A, he must immediately inform the Chief Constable, the Board and the Secretary of State of this (section 60A(3)) and of his reasons for this decision. He must provide the Chief Constable and the Board with a copy of his investigation report (section 60A(4)). A copy of the report must also be sent to the Secretary of State if the investigation touches on excepted matters (as defined in section 4 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (c.47)) or matters for which the Secretary of State has a statutory responsibility (section 60A(5)).

37.Subsection (3) makes a consequential amendment to 63(2A) of the 1998 Act. That subsection, which was inserted into the 1998 Act by section 63(2) of the 2000 Act, provides an exemption from the restriction on disclosure of information in section 63(1) of the 1998 Act. The effect of the exemption is to allow the Ombudsman to disclose information relating to the identity of an individual in a report under section 61A of the 1998 Act where he considers it necessary to do so in the public interest. Subsection (3) amends this provision so as to apply the exemption to the Ombudsman’s report of an investigation under the new section 60A of the 1998 Act.

38.Subsection (4) amends section 66 of the 2000 Act which provides that the Chief Constable and the Board shall supply the Ombudsman with such information and documents as he may require for the purpose of exercising his functions. Subsection (4) inserts new subsections (2) to (4) into section 66, which require the Chief Constable, or the Board, if supplying any sensitive information to the Ombudsman, to identify it as such and to notify the Secretary of State that it has been passed to the Ombudsman. (Sensitive information is that of a kind listed in the new section 66(4) of the 2000 Act as inserted by section 13(4).

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