Police Service of Northern Ireland Code of Ethics 2008

Title of guidance:

Police Service of Northern Ireland Code of Ethics 2008

Northern Ireland Policing Board (NIPB)

PSNI Code of Ethics 2008
Year published: 2008
Length: 40 pages
Format: PDF (299Kb)
Other formats: alternative formats such as large print, CD, audio cassette and in minority languages available on request - phone: 028 9040 8500 / email: information@nipolicingboard.org.uk
Producer/ Publisher: NIPB
Type of organisation: Inspectorate


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Policing | Criminal justice, courts and prisons | Immigration and asylum | Inspection and regulation | Commissioning or procurement | In-house Service Guidance | Human Rights Act | European Convention on Human Rights | Northern Ireland Act 1998 | Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 | Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 | GB wide (Northern Ireland)

Audience: Senior executive | Service management | Corportate management | Human resources | Front-line service personnel | Elected councillors, board members, trustees | Policy managers and directors | Legal directors | Finance directors

Topics: Human rights | equality | proportionality | dignity | privacy | security | torture / inhuman or degrading treatment


Superseding an earlier version published in 2003, this document sets out the disciplinary code for all police officers in Northern Ireland (within the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI)). It was drafted in the light of a review carried out by the Northern Ireland Policing Board, PSNI and both organisations' human rights advisors.

As a benchmark of ethical standards, it lays down standards of conduct and practice for police officers and is intended to make them aware of their obligations under the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights. It sets out a series of broad duties, referenced directly to relevant provisions of both national and international law, and, in some cases, to specific judgments.

The ethical standards are divided into ten articles (together with explanatory notes), covering: professional duty; police investigations; privacy and confidentiality; use of force; detained persons; equality; integrity; property; fitness for duty; and duty of supervisors. A breach of the standards is a disciplinary offence and could lead to dismissal.

The code takes account of certain issues that are unique to Northern Ireland (such as the Police Service attestation).

Key human rights messages in this guidance

  • 'In our daily work we should treat each person in the way in which we would want a police officer to treat us or members of our family' (Sir Hugh Orde)
  • The people of Northern Ireland have a right to expect the Police Service to protect their human rights by safeguarding the rule of law and providing a professional Police Service.
  • Police officers responsible for the planning and control of operations where the use of force is a possibility shall so far as possible plan and control them to minimise recourse to the use of force, in particular, potentially lethal force (ref: McCann v UK, 1995)
  • Police officers shall ensure that all detained persons for whom they have responsibility are treated in a humane and dignified manner.
  • The prohibition of torture is an absolute right - there is no justification for failing to comply with this standard.
  • Police officers shall give equal respect to all individuals and their traditions, beliefs and lifestyles.

Full review of this guidance

Legal and policy context

The introduction of a code of ethics for the police in Northern Ireland was a recommendation of the Patten Report (Report of the Independent Commission on Policing, 1999), which stated that '...to focus policing in Northern Ireland on a human rights-based approach...It is more a matter of the philosophy of policing, and should inspire everything that a police service does'.

The Northern Ireland Policing Board (NIPB) has a statutory duty to monitor the compliance of the PSNI with the Human Rights Act (HRA) 1998.

The NIPB's human rights advisors, Keir Starmer QC and Jane Gordon, provided advice as to how the code is explained to officers and their supervisors, how officers are trained and how breaches of the code are investigated.

What difference do human rights make?

The report states that public confidence in the Police Service is closely related to the attitude and behaviour of officers towards members of the public, in particular their respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals as enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Police officers also have the same right to respect for their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Related equality messages

  • Police officers shall give equal respect to all individuals and their traditions, beliefs and lifestyles.
  • Police officers are required to act with fairness, self-control, tolerance and impartiality.
  • The code refers to the duty under s. 75 of the Northern Ireland Act to promote equality of opportunity between persons of different groups, such as persons of different sex, religious belief, political opinion, racial group, sexual orientation, age, disability or marital status, and the desirability of promoting good relations between persons of different religious belief, political opinion or racial group.

Other important information

As noted above, the code takes account of certain issues that are unique to Northern Ireland (e.g. the Police Service attestation).

Date of review

April 2011

Also refers to other international standards:

  • UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials
  • UN Basis Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials
  • European Police Code of Ethics


We hope that you found the resource helpful and easy to use. Please let us know about other guidance or references that you think we should include. Send us your feedback.

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