Police Federation

Why legally qualified chairs are key to helping build public confidence in policing

As the Government hints at giving more powers to chief officers at police misconduct hearings, PFEW Conduct and Performance Lead Phil Jones discusses their vital role in maintaining an impartial, fair and transparent system for the police and public.

5 June 2023


The conduct of police officers, attitudes and processes within the service have rightly been looked at through a magnifying lens in recent months, following shocking cases which have rocked officers and the communities they serve.

In January the Home Office launched a review into the dismissal process, scrutinising the consistency of decision making at misconduct hearings and disproportionality in dismissals, alongside reviewing the existing model of misconduct panels and the impact of legally qualified chairs (LQCs).

If you’re experiencing déjà vu reading this then your hunch is correct, as a similar consultation was carried out back in 2015 which led to the system being overhauled to bring greater transparency, justice and independence into the police disciplinary system.

Members of the public were able to sit in on disciplinary hearings for the first time ever shortly afterwards, followed by the introduction of LQCs, which we as a Federation were very satisfied with as it meant the beginning of a fairer process for the members we support throughout the process.

Why were they introduced? I cite from the report as it sums it up perfectly: “The majority of respondents stated that the introduction of legally qualified chairs would result in sound and legally reasoned judgments, reduced appeals, fair and consistent decisions, greater transparency and increased public confidence.”

Forces were essentially marking their own homework before LQCs came in, who are assisted by an independent member and a senior police officer. Together they make up an independent panel.

Chief officers used to preside over misconduct hearings, but it was very clear to us they had made their mind up about the fate of an officer, positive or negative, even before they had heard any evidence.

How could anyone have faith in such an unfair system?

Because of recent high-profile cases, chiefs have been making noise over wanting more powers at misconduct hearings again, and the role of LQCs is being examined by the Home Office in its latest review.

The disciplinary system is not perfect, and we will always welcome ways to enhance it providing it is truly beneficial for both police officers and complainants. For instance, we already know disciplinary investigations take too long to conclude. In the Baroness Casey Review it was highlighted that on average, the Met takes 400 days to finalise misconduct cases - but this is a nationwide problem.

Latest statistics shows one in eight cases still take more than 12 months to conclude, according to the Home Office.

Via our long-running Time Limits campaign, we are fighting for police disciplinary investigations to be concluded within 12 months from the moment an allegation is made.

We are proposing legislation which would give legally qualified persons power to impose deadlines on investigations which have dragged on for a year, as the impact on police officers and complainant is massively damaging as they try to continue their lives with such a stressful thing looming over them.

The Home Secretary recently told the Home Affairs Committee he thinks “investigations need to happen more expeditiously”, so we are pleased to see the Government acknowledging this is an issue, and we are very keen to continue working with parliamentarians to introduce further legislative change.

However, he also told the committee the Government wants to make it easier for chief officers to dismiss police officers where they identify evidence of misconduct – an ominous indication of what we could expect when the consultation findings are launched.

Chief officers already have powers at their disposal when it comes to “fast-track” dismissals and can chair accelerated hearings and dismiss officers without delay when the evidence is incontrovertible and amounts to gross misconduct.

We will await the findings of the Home Office consultation which we fed into earlier this year, championing the continued use of LQCs.

The impartiality of independent panels, who hear, watch and read every single piece of evidence presented to them before making an informed decision on an outcome – free of undue political and social pressures - is absolutely vital to maintaining a transparent and fair system for all involved.

To move away from this would be a huge retrograde step during a pivotal moment where we are looking to improve the service and restore public confidence.

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