The independence of the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland - A follow-up review of inspection recommendations

Publication: 23/01/13
The independence of the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland
Independent review finds Police Ombudsman's Office ready to re-start investigation of historical cases

Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) has today (23 January 2013) paved the way for the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (OPONI) to recommence its investigation of historical cases.

Work on sensitive historical cases ceased in September 2011 after a CJI inspection report on the independence of the Police Ombudsman's Office found the way in which the OPONI dealt with the investigation of historical cases, had led to a lowering of its operational independence.
"Sixteen months ago CJI recommended that work on historical cases should be suspended and an immediate review of the manner in which they were progressed be carried out.  The Inspectorate did not make this recommendation lightly but in response to the gravity of the situation Inspectors found at that time," said Brendan McGuigan, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
"My recommendation today that the OPONI recommences this important work as soon as it is practical to do so, is based on the findings of a rigorous independent, impartial follow-up review," he said.
The Chief Inspector continued: "This review found evidence that substantial progress had been made against our initial recommendations since September 2011.  New structures and processes had been put in place within the OPONI, which focused on providing comprehensive and robust quality assurance of investigations into historical cases and the subsequent production of public reports."
However Mr McGuigan stated that the Inspectorate could only truly assess whether or not the full independence of the Office had been restored after public reports on historical cases had been published.
"Given the important role the OPONI has in terms of providing independent oversight of policing in Northern Ireland and the impact this has on public confidence, it is my intention to return to this issue again when a number of historic reports have progressed through the process and been published," he said.  
Reviewing the progress made against all six recommendations contained in the Inspectorate's initial report, the Chief Inspector said four had been achieved and two were viewed as partially achieved.
"In addition to the recommendation around the investigation of historical cases, work remains to be completed in relation the review of the OPONI's Confidential Unit - which handles sensitive information - to ensure the needs of a civilian oversight body are met.
"We understand from the Police Ombudsman's self assessment that work is presently on-going in this area and we anticipate this will be completed as soon as possible," said the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland. 
In conclusion, Mr McGuigan welcomed the positive impact progress made against the inspection recommendations has had within the OPONI and the sea change that had occurred within the organisation.