Pathways to accountability?
: Independent oversight, the right to life and the investigation of deaths involving the police

  • Brian J. Doherty

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis centres on issues of policing accountability and oversight. It examines the extent to which the police oversight agencies in the United Kingdom and Ireland with the remit for investigating deaths involving the police have evolved and adapted their investigative practice and capacity to meet the positive obligation under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) created by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) of conducting an effective investigation of any state caused death. It first examines the problem presented by deaths involving the police and considers a number of typologies of deaths involving the police. The thesis then examines the evolution and contextual operation of three police oversight agencies, the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. It then conducts a critical analysis of the evolution of the positive obligation under Article 2 of the ECHR and the development through European Court jurisprudence of the five standards of an effective investigation: independence, adequacy, timeliness, victim involvement and public scrutiny. The theory of Europeanization of Human Rights and the process by which European Court decisions impact upon domestic states is explored. An evaluation of the response to the Article 2 obligations by each of the oversight agencies from the perspective of those responsible for the investigation of deaths involving the police is conducted through qualitative interviews with senior investigating officers. The importance of the “political will” to conduct investigations as per the definition put forward by Luna and Walker has also been considered. Using Borzel and Risse’s definition of the degrees of domestic change caused by Europeanization the thesis concludes that the arrangements for policing oversight policies, processes and institutions have been “transformed” by the Article 2 obligations imposed by the ECtHR. It further concludes that the independence of oversight agencies is a complicated concept and is dependent on several interlinking variables that cannot be described or evaluated in simple linear terms. The performance and capacity of oversight agencies to meet the five standards is not constant and can be impacted upon by both internal and external factors. Oversight agencies can be seen to follow Herzog’s model of scandal and reform. The capacity of the oversight agencies to conduct investigations into deaths involving the police employing ‘high policing’ methods as defined by Brodeur is also explored. Finally, the research assesses whether in the viewpoint of the police oversight investigators the standards set by Europe are relevant, realistic and achievable in practice
Date of AwardSept 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorSteve Savage (Supervisor) & Phil Clements (Supervisor)

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