The former PSNI Chief Constable, who is now President of The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), said the notion of a politician being able to order the police what to do and what not to do “turns on its head 100 years of policing culture”.
“A Chief Constable is interested in the law and the law alone and I don’t think you can codify what operational independence is,” he added.
Sir Hugh was delivering the lecture in his role as a Visiting Professor at Ulster’s School of Criminology, Politics and Social Policy.
His talk on the ‘Complexity of Policing’ was heard by final year students at the Jordanstown campus.
The lecture provided an insight into the dynamic and complex world of policing in a modern society which seeks to increase police accountability, make police more responsive to local community needs, combat wider criminal threats including terrorism and to work in partnership with others.
Sir Hugh warned growing financial pressures in the public sector would raise a number of critical issues for police services across the UK.
Police forces would have to weigh up their priorities when allocating tighter resources, he said, choosing to reduce some while at the same time managing public and political expectations.
“The cost of policing is huge some £14 billion per year and we just need to remind ourselves the public sector is in dire straits and facing cuts.”
Criminology lecturer Gavin Boyd said it was a pleasure to have Sir Hugh come to Ulster and share with staff and students his insights into the environment in which UK policing has to operate.
“Given his previous post as Chief Constable of the PSNI coupled with his role as President of ACPO he is uniquely placed to share his experience about the complex world of policing as police strive to balance community demands for local policing with the demands posed by crime threats that transcend borders."
During his time as PSNI Chief Constable, Sir Hugh steered major police reforms in Northern Ireland, established the Historical Enquiries Team which is probing around 3,200 murders committed during the Troubles and became the first Chief Constable to hold face to face talks with Sinn Fein prior to the party getting involved in policing.
In June 2005, he received a Knighthood in the Birthday Honours List and in April 2008 scooped the annual Leadership Award from the Police Executive Research Forum for his role in steering through police reforms in Northern Ireland.
Sir Hugh has been a police officer for 32 years, initially serving as a Metropolitan Police officer in central London in 1977, and rose through the ranks, becoming Commander (Crime) for South West London in June 1998.
The Association of Police Authorities, ACPO leads and coordinates the direction and development of the police service in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In times of national need ACPO - on behalf of all chief officers - coordinates the strategic policing response.
Sir Hugh will also receive an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Ulster later this year along with former Policing Board chairman Professor Sir Desmond Rea.