Police urged to keep a record of advice issued by 'gatekeepers'

Published Date: 24.03.2014

Police officers have been given new guidance on dealing with suspects in police custody following a recent policy recommendation by the Police Ombudsman.

While investigating a complaint from a member of the public about the way in which the police dealt with a suspect, the Ombudsman examined the role of what the PSNI refer to as the ‘Gatekeeper’. A Gatekeeper is the name given to one of a team of dedicated Inspectors whose role is to review all criminal investigations where a suspect had been detained at a police station after arrest and to provide police officers with guidance on the most appropriate way of proceeding. They advise on whether to charge individuals, release them unconditionally or release them on bail.

In the case investigated by the Ombudsman a man complained that police failed properly to investigate allegations of assault against him, and in particular should have arrested the accused man rather than given him bail.

No guidance available to help officers.

The investigation looked at what actions were taken by the police, and discovered that the officer involved requested advice from a Gatekeeper. Although the Ombudsman concluded that neither had committed any misconduct, while looking at the case it became clear that there was no guidance available to help officers in this situation.

It was also discovered that there was no requirement for either of them to record the advice that had been given.

Not only did this make things difficult at the time for the Gatekeeper and investigating officer, it also meant that afterwards the Ombudsman could not corroborate what was discussed between the two, making it hard to understand the decision making process.

The Ombudsman therefore urged the PSNI to make it clearer to officers what the duties of a Gatekeeper were, and to ensure that after they gave the advice Gatekeepers made a record of what was discussed.

Following this recommendation, every officer was emailed with new guidance defining the role of Gatekeeper, and instructions on how and when officers should refer a case to them. The guidance also stressed the importance of recording the advice given and the rationale for it.

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