In the case of Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset Constabulary v Eckland, the Court of Appeal held (in a judgment handed down on 7 January 2022) that the Chief Constable was liable for any disability discrimination by the statutory police misconduct panel that had determined disciplinary allegations against the claimant police officer.

This is a key decision impacting chief constables as they will now be liable for any discriminatory conduct by misconduct panels.

Background of the case

In 2018 a police officer, “E”, was dismissed for gross misconduct following an allegation that he had committed perjury. The allegation was investigated by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) and the disciplinary proceedings were determined by the police misconduct tribunal.

Following his dismissal, E brought a claim for disability discrimination before the employment tribunal (ET), during which the ET had to identify the correct respondent in the claim. The ET found that the Chief Constable was the correct respondent, albeit that E’s complaints related to the Director General of the IOPC.

The Chief Constable unsuccessfully appealed to the EAT (see our insight from April 2021 for full details) and further appealed to the Court of Appeal.

Court of Appeal decision

The Court of Appeal unanimously rejected the Chief Constable’s appeal on the following grounds:

  • The decision in P v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis [2017] UKSC 65, [2018] ICR 560 did apply in this case and had to be followed. The Chief Constable’s argument that it didn’t apply (because the claimant could bring a discrimination claim against the panel directly under a different section of the Equality Act 2010 than that considered by the Court in P v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis) was rejected.

    The reason for this rejection was that the claimant could only bring their claim in the county court, and not in the ET, which the Court of Appeal held would not fully respect a police officer’s framework directive right to equal treatment and the principles of equivalence and effectiveness.
  • The Court was bound by the Supreme Court decision in P v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis  to hold that Chief Constable was the correct respondent for the purposes of a discrimination claim arising out of the acts or omissions of the panel. 

What to take away

This case serves as a reminder that it is always important to identify the correct respondent in any claim, particularly in a discrimination claim where the liability might not rest solely with the employer.

It will also be of concern to chief constables who will now be liable for any discriminatory conduct by misconduct panels.

We do not know yet whether the Chief Constable will be appealing this decision. However, we suspect that this decision is not the last word on this issue.

How Capsticks can help

We are experienced in supporting employers prevent discrimination and harassment, including by drafting equality and diversity policies, codes of conduct and delivering training to employees at all levels. We also help organisations deal with any complaints that may arise by conducting investigations, supporting decision makers and HR, and defending any employment tribunal claims.

For further information as to how this issue might affect your organisation, please contact Paul McFarlane, Anna Semprini or Raj Chahal.