Government proposes changes to police misconduct proceedings - the “easy” route to dismiss police officers?05/09/23
The Home Office Police Integrity Unit is undertaking a review of the police disciplinary process. On 31 August 2023, the government announced plans to change the law to improve police vetting and change the disciplinary procedures to allow officers to be dismissed from the force automatically following a finding of gross misconduct.
In this insight, we summarise the impact of these changes and what they mean for police forces.
The proposed changes
The government has proposed that individual Chief Constables should have stronger decision making powers to determine whether an officer should be dismissed from their police service, by chairing public gross misconduct hearings. There will continue to be an independent lawyer on the panel, but in a supporting legally qualified person (LQP) position, providing independent advice and helping to maintain rigour. A lay member will complete the panel to ensure decisions can still be reached by a majority.
Former police officers and special constable cases are proposed to be heard at accelerated misconduct hearings, in an effort to reduce red-tape and costs, while making sure those failing to uphold standards are removed more swiftly.
Turning the ‘College of Policing Guidance on outcomes in misconduct proceedings’ on its head in respect of sanctions, the government proposes that officers who have been found to have committed gross misconduct will be automatically dismissed from the police service unless “exceptional circumstances” apply. At the current time, the government have not indicated what will be categorised as “exceptional circumstances”.
The proposed changes to the vetting process will also allow officers to be dismissed should they fail a vetting or re-vetting procedure at any time throughout their service.
The proposed changes seek to:
- toughen up the disciplinary process
- provide the public with a high level of professionalism and service
- speed up the process of removing rogue officers
- improve the vetting process during an officer’s service, and enable officers who fail a re-vetting test whilst in post to be dismissed.
Other measures set to be put in the place include:
- the creation of a list of criminal offences which would automatically amount to gross misconduct upon conviction
- streamlining of performance systems to assist in identifying poorly performing officers
- new guidance to support the effective discharge of officers using Regulation 13 powers
- improving data collection on performance and dismissals including data on protected characteristics
- allowing delegation by chief constables of their responsibilities to other senior officers.
How will this affect current procedures?
Whilst the full details of the changes have not been provided at this time, the government proposals may not be as ground breaking as they first appear.
The gross misconduct hearing procedures will still need to be followed in terms of investigation, service of evidence, and preparations for a final hearing. Swapping a Legally Qualified Chair as chair of these hearings for the Chief Constable is seemingly the only change in respect of that procedure.
It appears that by changing the former officer procedures to accelerated procedures will add to the responsibility of the Chief Constable to chair misconduct hearings and meetings, subject to appropriate delegation.
Whilst all police forces agree that they wish to operate within a police system which roots out corrupt or criminal behaviour of police officers, protect the public, and deal with matters as quickly as possible, the proposed changes may not bring the immediate, radical change to the misconduct procedures that some believe is needed.
In the meantime, forces should continue to ensure officers are appropriately supervised and that any concerns about their conduct or performance are addressed in a timely and suitable manner.
The government’s proposals have been met with a mixed reaction and it will be interesting to see how representations from across policing are reflected in the final version of the amended Regulations that reach the statute book.
The government has indicated that they hope to bring the changes into place as soon as spring 2024 and we will be monitoring the situation as it progresses.
How Capsticks can help
Capsticks advise police forces on all aspects of misconduct proceedings including severity assessments, disclosure and the preparation and presentation of cases at pre-hearings and final hearings.
We are experts in advising police clients on interpreting and implementing officer terms and conditions contained within the Police Regulations 2003 and supporting forces to manage the performance and attendance of officers and staff. We have significant experience 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.
If you would like access to advice, training or need further guidance on police or staff misconduct and grievance procedures involving discrimination, please contact Anna Semprini, Louise Ravenscroft or Paul McFarlane.