Police Authority for whom?

by LEO OLIVERO
Successive Governments have continually failed to consult the public on most issues affecting the community; this has resulted in failed, outdated, and flawed legislation imposed or introduced, laws that have a direct bearing on the everyday life of each of us.

It was hoped that the new constitution would make amends for this, especially in one important and vital area, that of policing.

I have in Panorama over the past three years written some articles on the creation of a Police Authority in Gibraltar. I have particularly focused in these articles on the key role that the a Police Authority plays in supervision of our policing services, but more importantly the fact of ensuring that the public has a say on how they are policed.

Having read the new Bill (to be debated in the House of Assembly) regarding the creation of a Police Authority, this under the terms of the new constitution, I fail to see anywhere in this legislation where and how the public in Gibraltar will play hi forming any part of this newly formed body to oversee policing.

INDEPENDENCE

The main emphasis, aim, and thrust of a Police Authority is its independence, its openness and accountability, the new bill presented by Government does not meet this important criteria.

The new Police Authority Bill does not allow, as is the case in the United Kingdom, for members of the public to form part of this important public body. In the United Kingdom five independent members chosen from the community form part of this group, members of the public in the U.K. are allowed to apply to become members through public advertisement in the media.

I am not proposing that we have five members of the public in the local equivalent of the Police Authority, but at least we should have some level of public participation, the new bill allows for none.

According to the new bill, the Police Authority will consist of seven members. The Governor and the Chief Minister will select a member each, the Governor then appoints four more members this on advice from the public service Commission. The Chairman of the group is again appointed by the Governor on the advice of the newly formed Senior Appointments Commission, another group that no one really knows anything about.

MANIPULATION

The fancy wording on the bill itself may give rise to a process of independence of this newly created authority, but I am afraid IT STINKS of manipulation and clever manoeuvring it getting two feet from whichever direction into the manner policing wiU be conducted in Gibraltar.

Members of the public have a right to form part of the Authority; the Government again have dismissed this important key and essential issue of public participation and consultation.

The creation of Gibraltar's first Police Authority has been played out by the Government together with the British Government has if they were playing a kids game, the, you do this, and I will do that, that for me, and this is for you, type kiddies house game.

The public as I feared have been overlooked; the most important element of any worthy Police Authority is its composition. The public in Gibraltar in this respect do not get a look in, they do not even get a mention, they are not considered significant or imperative to the independence or the accountable obligations that this body will have or should have to the community.

The General Public will only have to rely, as is mentioned in the Bill, in a process of consultation which the authority will have to adopt, how this will be transformed into practice will be interesting, if in the first place the public will not have a say in anything.

SIGNIFICANT

Another significant point mentioned in the Bill is the Annual Policing Plan, according to the Bill the policing plan must as far as is practicable accommodate priorities of the Governor where it concerns him, and the priorities of the Government where it concerns them. This Bill has no mention that specifically states the priorities or concerns of the people that matter most, the PUBLIC and where it concerns them.

From where to do we take the accountability angle of all this, it appears that the Governors and Governments priorities have nestled nicely within the framework of this Ordinance, great pains have been taken to get this very clear included in the document. The public priorities however have been given a back seat or room in the boot, it really is sad, disappointing and a slap in the face to each Gibraltarian, any thought that the part of the constitution at least was going to make any kind of difference to the current set-up was wrong. There will be differences of course, the one that gives Government and the Governor a toy to play with and have hours of enjoyment.

Another aspect of the bill which will be totally unworkable is the fact that policing plans cannot be drawn up until the new Minister for Finance gives his or her go ahead. In practice what I think that will happen is that the police will have to prepare their Policing plans around what money is available or is passed for approval and not around the needs and concerns of the public. This has never been the criteria when forming policing plans, even on this matter of finance you can see now that there will be an influence by the Government on how policing services will be delivered and to what extent.

NOT THE CASE IN UK

There is also a distinct absence in the whole of this process regarding any input from any other political party represented in the House of Assembly, this is not certainly the case in the U.K. where County Councillors representing both Government and opposition form the basis of the Police Authority in each of the forty three different Police Authorities covering the different policing boundaries in the U.K.

This Bill which is the statutory instrument to create a Police Authority in Gibraltar goes out of its way to cite that no member of the House of Assembly can be come a member of the Authority. This is really a play with legal words and drafting techniques, because it is a joke and an insult to our intelligence when it can be clearly seen that the Government will probably drive the Commissioner, poor soul, and whichever Authority members that are chosen round the bend, the hook has been firmly inserted.

One point that the Government and their British counterparts do not appear to have agreed on is the removal of the Commissioner in the event the Commissioner does not perform as he should. According to the Bill in question the Police Authority after consulting with the Governor and the Chief Minister and with the agreement of either of them, may call upon the commissioner to retire, which is a polite way of saying, pack your bags. Why on this important matter where there should be all round agreement, there is none, its either the Governor agrees to remove the Commissioner or the Government, but if they do not agree for whatever reason, then there is a two to one majority. The Bill does not say, and should say that the Police Authority should have the last word, in the event that neither the Governor nor Government agree with them, as is the case in the U.K, this might be interesting and look out for sparks in the air if a situation of like ever developed.

This Bill for me at least is a great disappointment and not what I expected, there are many things open to interpretation and potential meddling on how policing will be conducted.

I do hope that the House of Assembly gives this Bill a good old thrashing in debate form because it really needs it, and by the way, who did Government consult when drafting this extensive legislation? That might be a good question to start this House of Assembly discussion regarding this supposedly public matter.




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