With continued political deadlock here over the new UK National Crime Agency (NCA) the PSNI have issued a statement warning of potential problems ahead, and proposing a suggested solution to complaints about accountability. From the PSNI statement
Criminality has no respect for boundaries. It is therefore vitally important that the PSNI can access both the international reach which the NCA will provide and the ability to draw down on the expertise that the agency will offer. This expertise will include: specialist support on human trafficking, child abuse, the analysis and movement of drugs and civil recovery of criminal assets.
It is the PSNI view that if the NCA is unable to operate fully in Northern Ireland, this will have a detrimental impact on our ability to keep people safe. The precise extent of this impact is difficult to quantify at this stage but it will definitely have an adverse impact on PSNI performance in combating serious and organised crime. Organised crime is an international problem and Northern Ireland is a target for international crime groups.
At the same time, we are acutely aware that the confidence and consent of the whole community are essential to the delivery of policing. We recognise that agreed accountability plays a central role in achieving this.
Northern Ireland is in a unique position. Major aspects of policing and justice have been devolved here and the accountability arrangements are rightly a matter for local and central Government to determine.
It remains our view that the NCA should only work in Northern Ireland alongside the PSNI, so that operational control ultimately remains with the Chief Constable and nothing proceeds without agreement. There must be complete transparency for PSNI of the NCA’s intelligence, investigations and operational activity. Through such arrangements, the Chief Constable can be held accountable for NCA operations via the Policing Board. [added emphasis]
PSNI will continue to strive to ensure such a situation can be achieved through binding agreement, whether through legislation or other suitable mechanisms. The detail of this is, rightly, not for the PSNI but for others to decide. However, the repercussions of failing to reach agreement will have an adverse impact on community safety in Northern Ireland in terms of PSNI’s ability to combat serious and organised crime.
The difficulty for those claiming to seek to re-route accountability for the National Crime Agency through the Northern Ireland Policing Board lies in the difference between a regional police service, the PSNI, and a national UK-wide agency, the NCA.
The Chief Constable, on behalf of the PSNI, is directly accountable to the NI Policing Board, on behalf of the NI Assembly, because he is appointed by that Board under the authority of the NI Assembly [subject to the approval of the Secretary of State – Ed] – see the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 for more details.
The Director General, on behalf of the NCA, is directly accountable to the UK Home Secretary, on behalf of the UK Parliament, because he is appointed by that Home Secretary under the authority of the UK Parliament [after consultation with the Scottish Ministers and the NI Department of Justice – Ed] – see the Crime and Courts Act 2013 for more details. The Home Secretary, in turn, is accountable to the national, sovereign, UK parliament.
Placing accountability for a national UK-wide agency, dealing with reserved or excepted matters, at a level lower than that of the national Parliament risks undermining the operation of that agency. Like Soca…, or MI5…
Briefings, and consultations, are a different matter. As I noted on Slugger previously
NCA annual plan and annual report
9. As part of the NCA’s commitment to openness and transparency, the Director General will publish an annual plan at the beginning of each financial year, setting out the NCA’s programme for that year and how the NCA plans to deliver against the Secretary of State’s strategic priorities and the Director General’s operational priorities. The Director General will issue the NCA’s Annual Plan in consultation with the NCA’s strategic partners, such as policing bodies across the UK, including Police and Crime Commissioners, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Serious Fraud Office.
10. The annual plan will be agreed with Scottish Ministers and the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland in so far as it relates to activities in Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively. The Home Secretary must approve the annual plan before it is issued.
11. In order to account to the public and Parliament for the NCA’s activity over the year, the Director General will publish the NCA annual report at the end of each financial year. The report will include a detailed assessment of how the NCA has delivered against its annual plan. It will be laid before the UK Parliament, Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly. [added emphasis]
And, as with Soca, the Police Ombudsman would continue to have a role in dealing with complaints about NCA officers.