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Northern Ireland: Cross-border Police Co-operation

Volume 716: debated on Wednesday 27 January 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made in implementing the recommendations of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly of March 2009 about improving the ability of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Garda Síochána to investigate and prosecute crimes across the border.

My Lords, work is at an advanced stage in the implementation of the recommendations relating to cross-border policing powers. Officials, police officers and public prosecutors from both sides of the border are meeting again tomorrow to consider the outstanding issues, including the draft procedural manuals.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that Answer and particularly to know that the procedural manual which was originally promised for last April is getting near production. We all agree that the policing relationships and the co-operation between the two police forces are absolutely excellent at all levels, but these legal and jurisdictional problems continue to make it much more difficult than it need be to investigate and prosecute crimes near the border. Can we expect progress tomorrow over, for example, the extension of the criminal jurisdiction Acts, so that money laundering, as well as murder and the other things on the list, can be tried in either jurisdiction?

My Lords, first, I pay tribute to the noble Lord for his persistent questioning in the specific area of cross-border policing. Thanks to that questioning, the Government are making progress on those matters and in Northern Ireland. I am not entirely sure whether the criminal jurisdiction Acts are on the agenda for tomorrow. Work continues to establish which offences are not covered by the Criminal Jurisdiction Act 1975 and how best to fill the gaps. The Irish Attorney-General has confirmed that he is content that their own Act should be amended to include additional offences.

My Lords, both the Garda Siochana and the PSNI would certainly agree with a five-mile buffer zone either side of the border to enable cross-jurisdictional handover during hot pursuits. Will the noble Baroness ensure that this is put on the agenda?

My Lords, it is not for me to suggest what should be on the agenda, but for the parties participating; that is, the prosecutors and the police from Northern Ireland and the Republic. I will seek to find out whether it is on the agenda and inform the noble Baroness accordingly.

My Lords, does the Minister really believe that the people of the Republic of Ireland would support the involvement of a United Kingdom police force five miles inside the Republic of Ireland?

My Lords, it is not a question of what I believe but of whether this is on the table for the talks. It is up to the people in the talks, who best know the people of the Irish Republic and of Northern Ireland, to decide whether to pursue this further.

My Lords, I know that the Attorney-General recently visited the Province to try to sort out a lot of the bureaucracy in the prosecutor’s office, and she assured me privately that she believed she was making progress. Is the noble Baroness able to tell me, when policing and justice are devolved—we hope they soon will be—where the authority, or responsibility, will reside for sorting out the problem of the collection of prisoners and criminals from either side and prosecution? Will it be devolved? Will it reside here or with a devolved Government in Stormont?

My Lords, I, too, hope that there will be devolution of policing and justice in the very near future. In response to the noble Lord’s question about responsibility for the transfer of prisoners, I do not wish to mislead him in any way. I do not have a definitive answer and I will respond to him in writing.

My Lords, can the Minister clarify whether there is any legal difficulty in joint PSNI/Garda Siochana teams operating on either side of the border, with the relevant police officers sustaining their capacity to arrest and interrogate and being accompanied by a police officer from the other side of the border? Is there any legal difficulty about such joint teams operating?

My Lords, there are limitations to the extent to which the police can operate outside their own jurisdiction. This is a consequence of the PSNI and AGS operating in different sovereign states under separate legislative provisions. The cross-border working group is currently examining this issue and will be looking at it at the meeting tomorrow. If there were a legal impediment to this happening, I cannot imagine that it would be on the agenda for that meeting.

I think the noble Baroness misunderstood the last question. The noble Lord was asking about police officers acting in their own jurisdiction, accompanied by officers from the neighbouring state, so that each acts in its own jurisdiction. Could she enlarge on what she said?

My Lords, I confess that I am totally confused now. As I said in answer to the earlier question, there are limitations to the extent to which the police can operate outside their own jurisdiction. Of course, the police can operate within their own jurisdiction accompanied by police officers from the other jurisdiction. There is absolutely no impediment to that.