Attorney General: NI doesn’t need police corruption law

John Larkin was giving evidence to Stormont's Justice Committee
John Larkin was giving evidence to Stormont's Justice Committee

A new law to combat potential police corruption in Northern Ireland is not required, the Attorney General has told MLAs.

John Larkin said he was confident existing legislation in the Province was broad enough to be able to punish any officer guilty of such a crime.

Home Secretary Theresa May announced the creation of the new offence of police corruption for forces in England and Wales last year after an inquiry outlined serious failings in Scotland Yard’s investigation into the 1993 murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in London.

The offence would carry a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.

Mr Larkin was giving evidence to Stormont’s Justice Committee on the potential of adding a similar offence to the statute in Northern Ireland.

“In short, I don’t think this is necessary,” he told committee members.

The Attorney General said the existing common law offence of misfeasance in public office could be used to prosecute any officer accused of corruption.

“In my view the offence of misfeasance in public office has a broad reach and is capable of catching any police officer who behaves corruptly on duty,” he said.

Mr Larkin noted that the Law Commission for England and Wales was currently examining the terms of the misfeasance in public office offence – an exercise that is aimed at addressing a number of uncertainties in regard to its scope.

He said the commission’s work could inform the committee’s own examination.

Committee chair Raymond McCartney said Justice Minister David Ford had written to members to inform them he was “reserving his position” in regard to the police corruption offence in light of Mr Larkin’s position and the Law Commission’s work.

Mr Ford later appeared before the committee to give evidence on another issue – the implementation of recommendations in last year’s Marshall report on child sexual exploitation in Northern Ireland.

Professor Kathleen Marshall, former children’s commissioner in Scotland, spent a year examining the extent of the problem and published her findings last November.

It outlined a range of crimes committed against vulnerable young people, including some perpetrated by paramilitaries, but said the region was not experiencing the sort of organised exploitation seen in places like Rochdale or Rotherham.

The report made 17 recommendations, and 60 supporting recommendations, that covered a wide range of government departments and statutory agencies.

Mr Ford told the committee that his officials were working hard to implement all the measures required by his department.

He said developing partnerships across statutory bodies was crucial to close the gaps in the system that some abusers had exploited.

The minister said that would ensure the response to the Marshall report was “as proportionate and as effective as possible”.

“Perpetrators of this type of crime abuse the trust placed in them by vulnerable young people,” he said.

“This type of exploitative relationship should be recognised and firmly placed in the wider context of sexual abuse.

“It is an appalling crime and I am sure as awareness of this form of abuse increases more cases will be identified.”