Skip to main content
Amnesty International UK
Log in

Northern Ireland: Cautious welcome from human rights groups for independent counsel review into covert surveillance

In response to the Chief Constable’s announcement of a counsel-led review into Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) use of covert surveillance against journalists, lawyers and others, Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Director, said:

“The Chief Constable’s announcement is an important step towards full disclosure.

“We will work alongside others to shape the terms of reference to ensure the review has full access to all documents and personnel and is not hindered in its role of laying bare the extent of potentially unlawful surveillance practices.

“However, we are also clear that this review cannot fulfil the same role as a statutory inquiry such as we have asked the Policing Board to establish under the powers granted to it under the Police (NI) Act 2000. Oversight of the police is too important a job to be subcontracted to the police itself.

“We have written to the Policing Board asking it to consider any report from the Chief Constable-commissioned McCullough Review to be considered as meeting his obligations under the Act, with a view to the Board discharging its responsibilities by establishing a full statutory inquiry to address outstanding concerns.

“The clarification from the Chief Constable that these eight redacted names are not journalists is welcome. However, it appears the six-monthly ‘defensive operations’ of cross-referencing telephone numbers, as described in the disclosure to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, may have been an indirect way of checking on journalists’ sources.

“The identity of those on the redacted list remains an unanswered question, including whether it includes staff from the Police Ombudsman – an office which is tasked with holding the police to account for malpractice and which has previously been targeted for police surveillance.”

Daniel Holder, Director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ), said:

“CAJ welcomes the initiative of the Chief Constable to establish the McCullough Review to examine the broad concerns regarding PSNI surveillance practices. This review allows the Policing Board and Investigatory Powers Tribunal to retain their own distinct responsibilities. In our independent capacity we will engage to seek for the review to address our concerns.

“The clarification of that the eight redacted names are not journalists, does not allay concerns regarding the PSNI ‘defensive operation’.

“It raises further questions regarding the breadth of ‘persons of interest’, the indirect surveillance of journalists’ sources, and in particular, if in part or whole the defensive operation was centred on seeking to limit accountability for human rights violations involving state agents.

“This was the context in the original arrests of Barry McCaffrey and Trevor Birney took place. There are questions that need urgently probed as to the extent officers, the Police Ombudsman, journalists and NGOs may have been targeted to seek to shield agents and handlers from accountability.”

View latest press releases