The Committee was reminded that the Council, at its meeting on 7th January, had passed the following motion on Black Lives Matter Demonstrations, which had been proposed by Councillor Matt Collins and seconded by Councillor Ferguson:
“This Council notes the recent Ombudsman report into the policing of Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Belfast and Derry on 6th June, 2020. The Council notes, in particular, the Ombudsman’s conclusions that the PSNI’s actions on the day were disproportionate, discriminatory and showed disregard to people’s human rights in relation to freedom of expression and freedom of protest and further notes the inappropriate use of the Serious Crimes Act (2007) to caution organisers of the events.
Accordingly, the Council calls for all penalty notices to be rescinded and prosecutions against Black Lives Matter activists relating to 6th June protests to be abandoned, as the first step toward redress. Furthermore, the Council calls on the PSNI to exercise its discretion to withdraw or rescind the applications made to the courts for registration of the Fixed Penalty Notices. The Council reiterates its support for the Black Lives Matter movement and its call for a real and robust racial equality strategy to help tackle the systemic problem of institutional racism.”
The City Solicitor submitted for the Committee’s consideration a response which had been received from Chief Superintendent Singleton, on behalf of the Chief Constable.
Chief Superintendent Singleton had highlighted the ongoing challenges being faced by communities and by the Police Service and pointed out that the Service had struggled to find the correct balance between upholding the continually changing restrictions and the rights of all individuals in the community. Whilst those restrictions were often a fundamental interference with individual human rights they had been made morally and legally necessary by the scale of the public health threat posed by Covid-19. The Police Service had, therefore, unsurprisingly, prioritised the Article 2 ‘Right to Life’ under the European Convention on Human Rights over all the rights, except for Article 3. This, it believed, had been in line with both the intention and the spirit of the Coronavirus regulations, as agreed by the Northern Ireland Executive.
He had gone on to state that the Police Service had welcomed the support, analysis and challenge contained within the reports of the Northern Ireland Policing Board and of the Police Ombudsman and that, rather than be defensive about any aspects of its approach or the findings in the reports, it was keen to acknowledge shortcomings, admit mistakes and learn lessons. Having carefully considered both reports, the Police Service was, he pointed out, in a position to accept the vast majority of recommendations. However, it was unable to accept the recommendations relating to the withdrawal of Fixed Penalty Notices and prosecutions, pursuant to its enforcement of Health Protection Regulations.
Chief Superintendent Singleton then stated that the Police Service had been advised that the existing Regulations made no provision for Fixed Penalty Notices to be rescinded either by it or by the Public Prosecution Service. The only mechanism by which an enforceable penalty registered under Regulation 12 could be set aside was by direction of the Magistrates’ Court. Those individuals who had been reported to the Public Prosecution Service for suspected breaches of the Regulations would have their cases independently assessed in terms of available evidence and public interest. The Police Service had been advised that, should it interfere with prosecutorial decision-making, it would raise questions around potential breaches of human rights.
He had concluded by pointing out that those recommendations resulting from the Northern Ireland Policing Board and the Police Ombudsman reports which had been accepted by the Police Service would be added to its overview systems and allocated timeframes and responsible owners. The Policing Board and the Police Ombudsman would be provided with regular updates as that work progressed.
After discussion, the Committee noted the response.