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Challenge to Northern Ireland Secretary's recommendation for next police ombudsman

Legal riposte to giving province's public services watchdog the job of 'holding PSNI to account'
Published - 07/05/2019 By - Nick Hudson - Police Oracle

Plans to appoint Northern Ireland’s public services watchdog as the next Police Ombudsman are being challenged.

Lawyers are preparing a case to counter the recommendation that the province’s Local Government Commissioner for Standards and Judicial Appointments Ombudsman takes over from current incumbent Dr Michael Maguire.

The legal riposte to Marie Anderson, by Belfast firm KRW Law, appears to centre on concerns about comments by the NI Secretary Karen Bradley and Prime Minister Theresa May that "tend to suggest that the security forces should not be investigated for their criminal conduct during the Troubles, or that they could not have committed a crime as they were merely following orders".

While Chief Constable George Hamilton welcomed Mrs Anderson’s appointment as an “essential part of the mechanisms by which the PSNI can be held to account”, critics say the Secretary of State should not be involved in the decision-making process for the ombudsman’s post.  

Ms Bradley announced her recommendation in the absence of devolved government in the region.

The post would normally be appointed by the Northern Ireland Executive, however Stormont has been collapsed since January 2017 following a breakdown in relations between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

Fresh talks aimed at resolving the impasse are due to start this week.

Secretary of State Bradley said in the absence of the Executive, it is her responsibility to "ensure good governance and stable public services in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland”.

"My absolute priority is to see the restoration of the Executive at the earliest opportunity," she said.

"In the absence of an Executive, it is vital that we ensure stability and continuity for this important public appointment.

"My intention is to recommend the appointment of Marie Anderson to the role of Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland."

The post holder leads a staff of more than 150 handling complaints against the Police Service of Northern Ireland with the budget last year topping £9.3 million.

Mrs Anderson has been Northern Ireland's public services ombudsman since 2016.

The successor to Dr Maguire – who was appointed in 2012 and finishes his seven-year term in July – attracted interest from both national and international candidates.

CC Hamilton said the force would engage “positively” with her office.

He added: "I welcome the appointment of Marie Anderson who brings a wealth of experience to the role.

"I recognise the importance of the role of the office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and the public confidence that the independent investigation of complaints against police carried out by the office can bring.

"It is an essential part of the mechanisms by which the PSNI can be held to account and I am confident PSNI will engage positively with the new ombudsman in the future."

In March, in the wake of comments by Mrs Bradley about security force killings during the Troubles, former ombudsman Baroness Nuala O’Loan said her involvement in appointing a replacement for Dr Maguire would undermine trust in the police watchdog.

And the challenge to the appointment comes from the daughter of a man injured during the Troubles in the 1992 loyalist attack on Sean Graham bookmaker's in Belfast.

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