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NI Court of Appeal overturn Police Ombudsman funding decision

On 7th November the Court of Appeal reversed a decision of the High Court that the Department of Justice (DOJ) had failed to provide sufficient funding to the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI).

In the earlier decision the High Court ruled that the DOJ acted unlawfully by failing to provide sufficient funding to PONI to enable it to carry out its statutory obligation to investigate a complaint by Patricia Bell within a reasonable period of time. 

The complaint related to the death of Ms Bell’s father, Patrick Joseph Murphy, who was murdered in November 1982.  The Historical Enquiries Team published a report into his death in November 2009.  Ms Bell’s sister made a complaint to PONI in December 2009 but was advised on a number of occasions that the complaint could not be investigated due to a lack of funding.

The High Court concluded that underfunding of PONI was “most directly” the result of a failure by the DOJ to provide adequate resources. 

The Court of Appeal overturned the High Court decision.  It held that the Police (NI) Act 1998 provided the DOJ with the discretion to provide sums ‘as appear to be appropriate’ to PONI.  Hence the court found that the Act had imposed a statutory duty upon the DOJ to decide on the distribution of resources, and the Courts did not have unfettered discretion to frustrate the duty. 

The summary of the judgment can be read here

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