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NI Policing Board to review PSNI's use of strip search

This review is being undertaken to assess whether the PSNI are complying with PACE Code of Practice C and Annex A, as well as Articles 3 and 8 of the Human Rights Act.

The Human Rights Advisor for the NI Policing Boars is to review the PSNI's use of strip search on children and young people after concerns were raised by members.

Currently, these searches are conducted when authorised by a custody sergeant, and only if an officer believes that an individual has concealed an item on their person or in their clothing that can cause themselves or others serious harm.

John Wadham is to review the force's use on the basis of two substantive issues: the evidential basis for each search, and the classification of 'urgent' given to the majority of searches which prevented an appropriate adult being present. 

Mr Wadham will examine the custody records and any other documents held in relation to the 26 children and young people strip searched in 2022.

He will also assess a sample of strip search decisions made after January 27, when the PSNI introduced a new policy mandating that officers record a detailed rationale for each authorised strip search.

Assistant Chief Constable Chris Todd spoke of this policy to the Board last month, telling members that it ensures the "person responsible for that decision" is documenting why they believe a particular strip search is urgent.

He also confirmed that he favours a presumption being put into PSNI policy which prevents such searches being carried out on children and young people unless there is an appropriate adult present.

ACC Todd told members that he intends to make this recommendation to Chief Constable Simon Byrne.

The basis of each strip search undertaken within the above timeframes will be subject to review.

Mr Wadham will look at the decision itself, the availability of appropriate adults, and the assessment of 'urgent' made in respect of any given search.

He will also assess the PSNI’s proposals to improve the processes and recording systems, and make recommendations to ensure compliance with the law.

Following the review, an anonymised report will be produced for the Board's Performance Committee and/or for publication.

ACC Todd said: “We welcome the review by the Northern Ireland Policing Board and will continue to provide material that is required.

"There are occasions when it is necessary and proportionate for police officers to conduct strip searches of under-18s. We do not want any young person in our custody to come to harm.

"From January, officers have been instructed to record a detailed rationale for the basis of any strip search on a child or young person.

"Every such case is then reviewed by a Chief Inspector and by our Service Accountability Panel which I chair on a quarterly basis. This additional scrutiny will ensure that the use of these sensitive powers is both necessary and proportionate.”

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