Belfast City Council has called into doubt a claim by the PSNI that they have no powers to rescind the Black Lives Matter protests fines.
At this week’s remote meeting of the full council, elected representatives and the council’s solicitor questioned a recent letter to the council from Chief Superintendent Singleton.
The senior PSNI officer was responding to a motion from the council urging the fines from events in Belfast and Derry last June to be dropped.
The Chief Superintendent said he was advised that “existing regulations make no provision for any fixed penalty notices to be rescinded by the police or by the Public Prosecution Service.”
However, John Walsh, City Solicitor for the council, told elected representatives:
“Whilst they say they don’t have the mechanism to withdraw from the processes they have enacted in terms of the fines, it is true to say the interpretation act has provision. It says if you are given powers, that other powers are necessary or consequential upon what it is you have been given to do.
“Therefore in my view if you have expressed a power to do something, then you are implying the power not to do it, and withdraw from it. So in my view, it is possible that the PSNI have misconstrued their own powers and can simply withdraw the process they have started.”
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 Chief Superintendent wrote to the council: “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.
Councillor Michael Collins, of the People Before Profit Party, who forwarded the original motion, said it was “not acceptable for us as a council to passively accept the response from the PSNI Chief Superintendent.”
He told the council: “We have found mechanisms to push through legislation at short notice when we wanted to fine anti-racism protestors, so now I think we need to find the same urgency to rectify this legislation, and to make sure the PSNI has the powers to rescind these fines.”
On hearing the City Solicitor’s comments, Councillor Collins said the matter should return to committee for further legal advice on the PSNI position regarding the fines.
The chamber agreed to this, and also to write to the courts service and to the Minister for Health at Stormont, notifying their request to the PSNI for the BLM fines to be dropped.