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Home Office Consultation on Proposed Changes to the Police Disciplinary System

The Home Office is currently carrying out a consultation on changes to the Police Disciplinary System, with changes due to come into effect in March 2015. We summarise the proposed changes The Home Office is currently carrying out a consultation on changes to the Police Disciplinary System, with changes due to come into effect in March 2015. We summarise the proposed changes below.

Introducing legally-qualified chairs to conduct disciplinary hearings

Misconduct hearings for non-senior officers are currently held in front of two police officers and an independent panel member. Where there is sufficient evidence to establish that an officer has committed gross misconduct and it would be in the public interest for them to cease to be a police officer, the case may be referred to a special case hearing – such hearings are currently held in private in front of a chief officer.

The consultation proposes that the senior officer who chairs disciplinary hearings and the chief officer in special case hearings will be replaced by legally qualified chairs. This is intended to ensure more independent decision-making, stricter adherence to legal processes, proper handling of points relating to legal processes, and the legal soundness of written judgments.

Holding police disciplinary and appeal hearings in public

Current police conduct regulations require misconduct meetings and hearings to be held in private, except where a fully independent investigation is undertaken by the IPCC, and the IPCC considers that it would be in the public interest for there to be a public hearing.

It is proposed that misconduct hearings for higher level cases that could lead to dismissal, special case hearings, and appeal hearings before the Police Appeals Tribunals will be held in public by default. Amongst other things, it is hoped that this will improve the visibility of the police response to misconduct, ensure that panels discharge their duties with the greatest degree of professionalism, and encourage only legitimate legal arguments to be made in defence of officers.

However, there will be certain situations where the chair of the panel would be entitled to decide to hold either all or part of a hearing in private. In making such a decision, the chair would have to take into account factors such as the wider public interest in the proceedings, the welfare of officers and witnesses, and national security issues.

Protecting police whistle-blowers

While there currently exists a positive obligation for officers to challenge or report the conduct of colleagues that falls below expected standards, officers sometimes choose not to do so, often for fear of victimisation.

The Government is seeking to strengthen protection for police whistle-blowers against disciplinary action and reprisals by amending the Police Conduct Regulations to:
  • Make it clear that disciplinary action should not ordinarily be taken against officers who take the necessary steps to report wrongdoing or poor practice;
  • Ensure proper consideration is given to whether a whistle-blower may have been subject to vexatious allegations or disciplinary proceedings as a result of their whistleblowing; and
  • Deter damaging action being taken against whistle-blowers by other officers.
It is hoped that this will protect officers at an earlier stage and prevent cases from ending up in the Employment Tribunal.

Changes to Chief Officer compensation payments in disciplinary cases

To improve justice, it is proposed that disciplinary hearing panels for senior officers will be given the power to remove or adjust compensation payments due at the termination of a chief officer's employment, if they are given a final written warning – the most stringent sanction that can be applied short of dismissal.

The Home Secretary has been particularly active in the field of police governance in the past year and we previously looked at her robust speech to the Police Federation here. Ashleigh Freeman shortly will be looking at further recent developments in policing governance, including the Home Secretary's proposal that Police and Crime Commissioners deal with public complaints against officers and that Consumer Groups be able to explore systemic issues in policing.

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