22 November 2021
The independence of future conduct hearings could be undermined by changes to the process announced by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC).
That’s the view of Derbyshire Police Federation chair Tony Wetton following a speech by NPCC chair Martin Hewitt at the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) and NPCC Summit.
Mr Hewitt told the summit that the NPCC has asked all chief constables to chair more accelerated hearings, “wherever the grounds are met, to swiftly determine the facts”.
He said it has also asked chief constables to make submissions to legally-qualified chairs “wherever appropriate, so that sanctions always meet the gravity of an offence”.
Chief constables have also been advised by the NPCC to seek judicial reviews where dismissal is not the outcome, and it wants the College of Policing guidance amended. The Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) believes this it to influence dismissals and hamstring panels.
Tony said: “What’s being proposed is worrying – it raises concerns about Chiefs Council’s commitment to the process remaining open, transparent and independent. The panels are currently independent, including a senior officer to represent the force, but allowing chiefs to write to the chairs in advance of all of the evidence can only serve to undermine that.
“Chiefs already have ample opportunity to make representations through the appropriate authority and the legal team presenting their case in the hearing. That is the appropriate place for those representations to be made – in front of the officer and affording the officer the opportunity to make their own representations. To seek to influence the independence of the legally qualified chair outside of those proceedings can only be seen as an attempt to predetermine the outcome.
“I will be raising my concerns about this with the chief officer team in Derbyshire and am confident that they will share the view that it is for the presenting legal team to properly argue the facts and seriousness within the proceedings.
“As a Federation, we would like to see the disciplinary process speeded up so that officers don’t have it hanging over them, but this is not the way to do it and ensure an open and fair system.”
Tony’s comments were echoed by Phill Matthews, PFEW conduct and performance lead.
He said: “We agree it is vital the service is as open and transparent about misconduct processes as possible, but what is being suggested risks undermining that which is deeply concerning. What is being proposed risks turning misconduct proceedings into kangaroo courts.
“Allowing chief constables to write to legally-qualified chairs of independent panels before they have heard evidence from all parties involved could unduly influence the outcome of a hearing and is akin to the Queen writing to crown court judges ahead of trials with her view of the outcome without hearing the evidence or trial.
“We already have a fair and transparent system in place with independent panels consisting of both officers and members of the public. We are under the impression chiefs want to hamstring and hinder this process so they can rig outcomes in order to suit their agenda.
“Permitting chiefs constables to chair more accelerated hearings, or make submissions, is far from open and transparent justice and could lead to a return to the dark days where officers were dismissed in the eyes of those present even before any evidence was considered.
“We are pleased to see the NPCC finally recognises the need to speed up disciplinary processes, which we have been pressing hard for this as part of our Time Limits campaign for the last two years, but chiefs have consistently refused to back this.
“Moving forward we will continue to work with forces and the Government to ensure disciplinary processes are fairer for not just officers, but also for members of the public, but this is not the way to do it.”