14 Mar 2012

The Justice Minister, David Ford, has begun a public consultation on reforms to the office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.

They cover proposed changes to its structure, role and powers.

Mr Ford said the consultation outlined the potential for “significant changes” to the law and governance of the ombudsman’s office.

Al Hutchison stepped down from the role in January after criticism of the performance of his office.

About 30 people have applied for the vacant post.

On Tuesday, Mr Ford urged people to consider the proposals and recommendations “very carefully”.

“The existence of an effective and independent complaints system is something that the public and police have a right to expect,” he said.

“It is a key part of the policing architecture in Northern Ireland intended to secure public confidence in their police service.

“I want to ensure that flowing from this consultation process we have an office that delivers significant benefit to the people of Northern Ireland and contributes to public confidence in the policing arrangements more widely.”

The proposals include:

–Whether the current model for the Police Ombudsman’s office is the most appropriate

–Whether it is appropriate that the Police Ombudsman can have a policing background

–Extension of the Police Ombudsman’s remit to include civilian policing posts

–Being able to compel officers to attend interviews and provide documentation in the investigation of grave and exceptional matters

–Reducing the term of the office to five years

–Amending the regulations to allow the investigations of cases occurring as a result of police action or indirectly, due to police operations

Mr Hutchinson became the second police ombudsman for Northern Ireland when he succeeded Nuala O’Loan in 2007.

In 2011, three independent reports were highly critical of the work being carried out by the ombudsman’s office.