Legal challenges to PSNI's rehiring of ex-RUC officers fail in court

Police Service of Northern Ireland headquarters The PSNI's recruitment of support staff, including the rehiring of ex-RUC officers, was challenged in court by a UVF murder victim's mother and by the civil service union, NIPSA

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Two legal challenges to the Police Service of Northern Ireland's civilian recruitment policy, including rehiring retired RUC officers, have both failed.

The two separate court challenges were brought by a murder victim's mother and by the civil service union, NIPSA.

Vivienne McCord, whose son Raymond was murdered by paramilitaries in 1997, challenged the PSNI's rehiring of ex-Royal Ulster Constabulary officers.

NIPSA had challenged the PSNI's use of a private firm to hire support staff.

The union claimed Chief Constable Matt Baggott acted unlawfully when he awarded a contract worth up to £180m to the company to hire more than 1,000 temporary staff to work for the PSNI.

Analysis

This is a huge relief for the PSNI.

Two years ago, the BBC revealed that over three-quarters of civilian staff employed by the PSNI on temporary contracts were former RUC officers who had retired under the Patten redundancy scheme.

Nearly half of them were involved in some of the most sensitive areas of policing, including intelligence.

An audit office report published in October 2012 revealed that over 20% of all RUC officers who took Patten redundancy were later rehired by the PSNI. The figure exceeded 1,000 retired officers.

The PSNI rejected claims by critics that it was operating an old boy's network and what was termed "a revolving door policy".

It said the recruitment policy was essential because it needed the specialised skills of some former officers for some jobs.

In addition, in July 2012 the PSNI awarded a contract valued at £180m to a private company called Resource to provide temporary staff to provide a range of services.

These services included guard duties at police stations, call handling, CCTV camera monitoring and close protection unit drivers.

More than 1,000 of these temporary staff are currently employed by the PSNI. Northern Ireland's largest public sector union, NIPSA, claims many are also former RUC officers.

The union argued that the chief constable acted unlawfully when he authorised the contract.

The PSNI argued that the policy was essential and cost effective, and that it would not be possible to provide many of the services without temporary staff.

However, the judge ruled that it was clear from the relevant legislation that the chief constable did have the power to enter into the private contract, and was entitled to do so.

Both applicants failed in their bids to secure a judicial review of the PSNI's current recruitment arrangements for support staff.

'Police collusion'

Mrs McCord had objected to the rehiring of retired RUC officers to work on PSNI investigations, including the one into her son's death.

Raymond McCord jnr was murdered by a Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) gang that was led by an RUC Special Branch informer.

Ten years later, an investigation by the then Police Ombudsman, Nuala O'Loan, upheld allegations of police collusion in the killing.

When Mrs McCord launched her court challenge in 2012, she said she was concerned that some retired officers may have a vested interest in hindering the investigation into her son's murder.

In her judicial review application, she claimed the RUC rehiring arrangement compromised the integrity of the investigation.

'Jobs for the boys'

The Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA) represents more than 1,200 civilian staff working for the PSNI.

It criticised the PSNI's decision to outsource hundreds of police support staff roles to private companies, including roles such as custody detention officers, security guards, call handlers, station enquiry assistants and safety camera operators.

In 2012, the union alleged that retired police officers were being rehired for jobs that were not publicly advertised, and that the practice had resulted in a culture of jobs for the boys.

In its judicial review application, NIPSA complained that the contract staff had bypassed the PSNI's 50:50 recruitment policy, designed under the Patten policing reforms to increase the number of Catholics working for the PSNI.

The two judicial review applications were considered at the same time because the concerns they raised overlapped.

'Efficient management'

High Court judge Mr Justice Treacy ruled that the outsourcing of PSNI support roles was consistent with the Patten reforms.

Chris Patten Chris Patten was brought in to reform policing in Northern Ireland 16 years ago

"The Patten Report recommended that there should be a 'review of police support services with a view to contracting out those services where this will enhance the efficient management of resources'," the judgment stated.

He rejected a submission that the hiring of permanent staff by the Policing Board was the only means by which the PSNI could secure civilian assistance.

The judge said the role of the Policing Board, as envisaged by the Patten report, was to have a high level role in negotiating the police budget and holding the PSNI to account - not to control spending decisions or the day-to-day management of that budget.

Speaking outside court, Ryan McKinney from NIPSA said: "The Policing Board, I'm sure will want to consider the outcome of this, as will NIPSA, so we'll be meeting to have a legal briefing with our solicitors to decide on a course of action after this."

Mrs McCord's solicitor, Padraig Ó Muirigh, said: "I suspect it's not the end of the matter and I would imagine, after consulting with our client, that we'll be in a position to decide on filing an appeal."

Redundancy payments

The Patten Report was published by the former Hong Kong governor, Chris Patten.

He was brought in to reform policing in Northern Ireland as part of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

The Patten redundancy scheme was a key part of his reforms and was aimed at increasing the number of Catholics in the PSNI, which replaced the RUC in 2001.

The scheme included a retirement package that encouraged thousands of RUC officers to leave their posts.

That made room for new recruits - 50% of whom had to be Catholic, until 50:50 PSNI recruitment ended in 2011.

Up to the end of November 2010, Patten redundancy payments totalled almost £475m.

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