A ‘Culture of Justification’? Police Interpretation and Application of the Human Rights Act 1998
The Frontiers of Public Law (Hart, 2019)
27 Pages Posted: 25 Jul 2019
Date Written: July 1, 2019
The near-exclusive focus of public law scholarship on judges as the interpreters and appliers of the Human Rights Act 1998 is entirely understandable given the judiciary’s constitutional role to authoritatively determine the scope of human rights law. But what I want to suggest in this paper is that if we extend our gaze just a bit further, into the realm of public administration, there are parallel communities of interpretation whose understandings and applications of human rights are well worthy of examination in their own right. The paper presents a case study of one such ‘interpretive community’ to explore what a ‘culture of justification’ within public administration might look like: the public order commanders of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, tasked with policing contentious parades and protests. The paper introduces a ‘culture of justification’ as an aspirational vision of public administration and the merits of an empirically-grounded inquiry of it. Marshalling data from qualitative research with the PSNI, the paper examines the legal training and advice police commanders are given to promote a rights-based approach to public order policing. It proceeds to explore how human rights law is practised by commanders, revealing how they use human rights to manage positive duties, as well as ‘trouble’ from police oversight bodies.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation