The PSNI have confirmed that they and the Public Prosecution Service have no powers to rescind the Black Lives Matter protests fines.
Belfast city councillors noted a response from the police at the council’s recent Strategic Policy and Resources Committee to a letter from the council demanding the fines be dropped on those protesting in Belfast and Derry last June.
An ombudsman’s report into the policing of Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Belfast and Derry was highly critical, stating the PSNI’s actions on the day were disproportionate, discriminatory and showed disregard to people’s human rights in relation to freedom of expression and protest.
The council, without support from unionist parties, narrowly agreed a motion calling on police and courts to abandon the charges. The motion, forwarded by People Before Profit, declared council support for the Black Lives Matter movement and called for “a real and robust racial equality strategy to help tackle the systemic problem of institutional racism.”
Chief Superintendent Singleton responded to the motion on behalf of the Chief Constable’s office. He wrote: “We are advised that existing regulations make no provision for any fixed penalty notices to be rescinded by the police or by the Public Prosecution Service. The only mechanism by which an enforceable penalty registered under Regulation 12 can be set aside is by direction of the Magistrate’s court.
“Those individuals who have been reported to the Public Prosecution Service for suspected breach of the regulations will have their cases subjected to independent assessment by the PPS in terms of available evidence and public interest.
“We are further advised that were the police service to interfere with prosecutorial decision making this would raise real questions about potential breaches of human rights.”
Chief Superintendent Singleton said the service has “struggled” to find the correct balance between upholding the changing restrictions and the rights of all individuals.
He said restrictions were “often a fundamental interference with individual human rights” but were “morally and legally necessary” by the scale of the public health threat posed by Covid-19.
He wrote: “The Police Service has, therefore, unsurprisingly, prioritised Article Two “The Right to Life” under the European Convention on Human Rights over all the rights, except for Article Three. This, it believes, has been in line with both the intention and the spirit of the coronavirus regulations, as agreed by the Northern Ireland Executive.”
He said the service “welcomes” the analysis of the Northern Ireland Policing Board and of the Police Ombudsman and added, “rather than be defensive about any aspects of its approach or the findings in the reports, it is keen to acknowledge shortcomings, admit mistakes and learn lessons.”
Sinn Fein councillor Matt Garrett to the comittee: “This council has taken a view that those fines should be rescinded – would it not be pertinent for us to make sure that the magistrate’s court, or the PPS, or whoever it is, are at least aware of the motion agreed in council?”
A council officer said this information could be relayed to the courts, on elected members agreement. Councillors agreed to write to the courts, pending ratification at full council next week.