NI Justice Minister: “I trust that the executive will recognise that it is the right decision, and that I was right to make it”

In the aftermath of the Northern Ireland First and deputy First Ministers/Executive/Assembly/Policing Board members semi-detached polit-bureau’s kerfuffle over the NI Justice Minister’s proposed changes to the criteria for the next Chief Constable, Liam Clarke reveals some significant correspondence on the matter.  Firstly, the Chief Executive of the NI Policing Board, Sam Pollock, tries his hand at herding cats to put some manners on members of the Board.

In his letter to Policing Board members, Mr Pollock wrote: “I am disappointed in the fact that board members, in my view, have been commenting inappropriately and in a way that damages their independence and objectivity should such members be engaged in a few weeks’ time in appointment processes based on absolute fairness and impartiality.”

He added: “Following the decision of the Chief Constable to announce his departure, media commentary and speculation is potentially damaging, and is impacting on the confidence and integrity of the board as a public body in fulfilling its statutory duties.”

He made clear that, contrary to suggestions, the process of replacing Mr Baggott was not yet under way and the criteria for his replacement had not been settled.

He wrote: “The appointments processes for Chief Constable and the Deputy Chief Constable will be initiated next week but appointment panels, criteria and arrangements for the competition will only be approved at the March board. The board is the public authority which will initiate, manage and oversee the appointments processes.” [added emphasis throughout]

He added that “it is my sincere hope that board members, regardless of whether they are political or independent members, will respect the governance of the board and will do nothing or say nothing that would undermine or jeopardise the impartiality and objectivity of the board in its significant responsibilities.”

And, contrary to comments without, and within, the NI Assembly [see topical questions],

In an email to PSNI staff and officers on Wednesday, [Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie] wrote: “I notified the Policing Board of my intention to retire before Christmas. This was a decision I made in quiet reflection over many months, considering a wide range of factors. In making this decision I was fully aware that a consultation process was already under way by the Justice Minister regarding the criteria for Chief Constable of PSNI.” [added emphasis]


Mr Ford was also criticised for taking a decision without consulting the justice committee.

But it emerged in a separate document that Mr Ford contacted the committee, but had “no response from any party to provide formal feedback either on the criteria or consultation process”.

As the BBC reports, following the Northern Ireland Executive meeting on Thursday,

Ministers discussed the matter on Thursday, when they agreed Mr Ford would consult on his proposal.

After the meeting, Mr Ford said he had not interfered in the role of the Policing Board but “enhanced it”.

He said he had “tackled an issue of potential inequality, on the advice of the Equality Commission”, and had “consulted deeper and wider than I was required to do”.

“[I will now continue down the road that I have embarked on.] For whatever reasons, and I fear they are only political reasons, the DUP and Sinn Féin have determined that I must bring my final decision to the executive for it to consider – I will do so,” he said. [added emphasis]

“But I trust that the executive will recognise that it is the right decision, and that I was right to make it.

“The executive must ensure that it does not allow politics to be dragged into the recruitment of a chief constable, nor the role of a justice minister.”

In a separate Belfast Telegraph report, Liam Clarke clarifies the situation

Mr Baggott has said he wants to retire, and must go by September. Under current rules candidates for his job are required to have served two years at Assistant Chief Constable level or above in an outside force. Mr Ford proposes reducing this from an absolute requirement to something which is “desirable”.

This would bring the PSNI into line with practice elsewhere in the UK. The Justice Minister proposes making it mandatory that the successful candidate should have completed the Strategic Command Course at Bramshill, or equivalent.

Equivalent courses include the FBI Executive course for future chiefs of police, which has been completed by some senior gardai.

It remains a moot point whether Mr Ford accepts that the Executive has a right to overrule him. A paper he submitted to the Executive is understood to have insisted that “this decision is within his powers as Minister of Justice” and pointed out that he had, so far, only issued it in draft form as part of a consultation process.

The First Ministers have the power to intervene in ministerial decisions if they are “significant and controversial”. Mr Ford argued: “This decision does not deal with significant matters, but involves only minor adjustment to the mandatory minimum criteria for an appointment process.”

And he is “not prohibiting the [NI Policing] Board from adding to these minimum criteria…