We must remain optimistic despite Bill setback
23 November 2018
PFEW National Chair John Apter
National Chair John Apter believes there are still reasons to be optimistic even though a Private Members Bill calling for essential protections for police drivers stalled today.
He said: “Despite today’s setback, the conversations we are having at ministerial level are still positive and they recognise that something has to be done.”
Senior government backbencher Sir Henry Bellingham, who is the Conservative MP for North West Norfolk, put forward his Emergency Response Drivers (Protections) Bill on behalf of the Police Federation of England and Wales after we made him aware of the shameful lack of legal safeguards for blue light responders.
As the law stands police response drives are illegal and officers run the risk of being charged for dangerous or careless driving. This is because the common standard of a ‘careful and competent driver’ applies equally to the emergency services as it does an ordinary member of the public who is not trained in advanced driving techniques and police tactics.
A major success for the Federation has been persuading the Government that the appropriate remedy is to broaden police exemptions, rather than establish a specific standard for police drivers, which they initially proposed and we argued this would ‘raise the bar’ and expose police to greater risks of prosecution.
Sir Henry’s Bill received its first reading last December and proposes increased exemptions for the emergency services from civil liability or criminal prosecution. However Parliament ran out of time to debate the Bill a second time today and the next opportunity is likely to be March 2019.
John Apter is urging officers not to lose heart, saying: “I have a meeting with the Policing Minister Nick Hurd next week and this issue will be on the agenda. I previously wrote to the Minister to express my concern at the apparent lack of gravitas they are giving this important matter, and the reality that our colleagues are at risk on a daily basis for simply doing what they have been trained to do.”
Affording the police greater exemption from prosecution is not about giving “carte blanche behind the wheel”, affirmed John. “We are not condoning or encouraging a Wacky Races culture of police driving – but there has to be an element of protection for our colleagues. If nothing is put in place the consequences of that will be significant, because I cannot standby and allow our members to break the law, the government and chief constables to allow it and just keep their fingers crossed that everything will be okay. That is not acceptable.”
PFEW Pursuits Lead Tim Rogers added: “Senior officers in the main fully support and actively encourage the use of driving tactics that clearly are at odds with the law.
"This is all very well but it is not them who will be charged or sent to jail or lose their job - it is our members. The officer carries all the risk. Senior officers need them to take these risks. I am certain we will achieve the changes in law that we need but in the meantime my advice to members is to be mindful, be safe.”
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