Police rethink on membership order

The PSNI has opted for a rethink over whether individual officers must declare membership of organisations like the Masons.

The change in position follows a challenge by the Masonic Order and two members of the police force.

It is understood that the onus to notify police chiefs about membership under General Order 17/2004 remains in force, however, the Police Federation said that the decision to inform lies with the individual officer.

It had argued that such a registration would place a "black spot" on officers' heads.

The federation said officers had now been told that 4,500 notification forms which had been completed and returned would remain sealed and would be destroyed, unread, on request by individuals.

Originally, Chief Constable Hugh Orde said officers should have to comply with the Registration of Notifiable Memberships as recommended in the Patton Report.

Federation 'pleased'

He had drawn up a list of organisations which included the Grand Lodge of Freemasons, Ancient Order of Hibernians, Orange Order, Apprentice Boys and Knights of St Columbanus.

However, a judicial challenge at the High Court in Belfast did not go ahead on Thursday and Mr Justice Girvan was told that agreement over the matter had been reached.

Terry Spence, secretary of the Police Federation which backed the case brought by serving officers Michael Walker and Martin Whittle, said afterwards: "We are pleased at the positive outcome of these important proceedings."

Mr Spence has already informed his members that the notification requirement contained in the chief constable's General Order 17/2004 will be withdawn.

In addition, all disciplinary proceedings arising out of the failure to comply with the General Order will be withdrawn.

Mr Spence's letter to members stated: "The Chief Constable cannot remove the requirement to notify him of relevant memberships as this arises from Westminster legislation.

"However, the Federation remains of the view that the requirement of notification involves only an individual officer forming an honest belief as to whether he is a member of an organistion that might reasonably be regarded as affecting his ability to discharge the his duties effectively and impartially.

'Black spot' claim

"Accordingly, the chief constable may not require anything further of officers."

Solicitor Dorcas Crawford, representing the two officers, said: "My clients feel that these proceedings have achieved a very successful result in that it guards the rights of individual members while still protecting the general public."

When leave was granted in June for the judicial review to proceed it was claimed that compliance put a "black spot" on the heads of police officers and was a breach of their right to a private life as laid down in the European Convention on Human Rights.

However, a lawyer for the chief constable argued that there had been a fear the police force was linked with a particular political viewpoint and the legislation was simply a basis for achieving confidence in the police service.

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