Police Ombudsman publishes report on treatment of lawyers by police

Published Date: 13.03.2003

A survey carried out by Police Ombudsman's Office, and supported by the Northern Ireland Bar Council and the Law Society, indicates that the vast majority of solicitors and barristers here have not reported any difficulty in their dealings with police officers.

However, the study also indicates that 55 solicitors and barristers said they had suffered problems.

The Police Ombudsman, Mrs Nuala O'Loan, said: "I was aware of allegations of intimidation and harassment of lawyers by police officers and of the extent to which this has been the subject of discussion for many years, both here and at the United Nations.

"This survey was commissioned because I wanted to find out if there was a problem in this area and the extent and nature of it. I wanted to know if such problems were common or limited to a small number of isolated allegations.

"The numbers and types of allegations reported in this survey do not paint a picture of widespread mistreatment of lawyers by police officers," she said.

"The allegations which were made must be a matter of concern."

The research, which took place in 2001 and 2002, asked 2,834 solicitors and barristers in Northern Ireland if they had ever been the subjects of such behaviour by police officers. 1,458 people (52%) responded.

1,403 of these 1,458 respondents (96.2%) indicated that they had not experienced any problems of this nature with the police.

Fifty-five people (3.8%), however, said they had experienced difficulties and said the alleged behaviour was either directed at them personally or through a client

Respondents who said the matters were more serious alleged direct physical threats or threats of arrest: accusations from police officers that the solicitors were members of terrorists organisations; threats that personal details would be passed to terrorist organisations; defamation of character; sectarian abuse and unprofessional conduct during interviews with clients.

The great majority of the incidents complained about took place before the establishment of the Police Ombudsman's Office as the independent, impartial way of dealing with complaints against the police.

Most of those who alleged they had been the victims of police misconduct did not complain about it, many saying they felt the police would not do anything about it.

"Respondents to the survey thought that the establishment of my office was a positive step and a number of those who took part in later interviews said that this was proving to be the case," explained Mrs O'Loan.

She added that she had been encouraged by the introduction of new regulations for police officers regarding their working relationships with lawyers.

"The PSNI has introduced a new force order which sets out very clearly the standard of conduct that is expected of officers in their dealings with lawyers, while the newly-introduced Code of Ethics requires that, in all situations, officers must discharge their duties with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, while upholding fundamental human rights. Such principles, if adhered to, will ensure that the problems uncovered by this survey become a thing of the past," added Mrs O'Loan.


A PDF version of the survey report is available here.

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