Ian Paisley MP questioned the Secretary of State this week on the role that the government should play in covering the legal costs of evidence and allegations made against retired police officers.
Currently the Ministry of Defence have a system in place where they cover any legal costs of any cases against British soldiers, but this is not the case in the police service.
Mr Paisley expressed his disappointment at the level of scrutiny retired officers come under as a result of legacy enquiries when in so many cases service men and women are left in huge debt covering legal costs simply to have their names cleared. “Former police officers are currently subject to being held to account by Police Ombudsmen, PSNI Legacy hearings and inquests. So they’re subject to being criticised and having their reputations ruined and soiled by such enquiries whether they be witnesses or have allegations made against them.”
Speaking in the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee the DUP MP added “Here on the mainland if you’re a British soldier and you’re a witness or you’re going to be charged on an issue to do with legacy the MoD pays all legal costs, for police officers that is not the case and I think that is wrong.”
Secretary of State Theresa Villiers responded “I recognise the difficulty here and I can understand there is an awkward contrast between their position as former servicemen and women. This is however an area that now falls squarely in the devolved arena.”
Mr Paisley did criticise the current system and said such legal overheads will undoubtedly hinder the development of the PSNI in the future. “Do you really think its good enough to say to our Chief Constable ‘here is your budget, spend this budget on lawyers dealing with the past.’ I don’t think that’s fair on him, his calculations on preparing for recruitment and how he polices the current and future force.”
Ms Villiers acknowledged Mr Paisley’s concerns concluding “I have discussed this with representatives of the retired officers and also with the Chief Constable. The responsibility tends to lie with the PSNI on these matters. The Chief Constable recognises the sensitivity of this issue, but he is constrained by affordability. He gave me his assurance that this is actively being considered.”