31 August 2023
Today [31 August], the Home Office has announced multiple, significant changes to the police officer dismissal process, following a four-month review, looking at its effectiveness.
Under the new system, a finding of gross misconduct will automatically result in a police officer’s dismissal, unless exceptional circumstances apply.
Chief constables will return to chairing misconduct panels and will be handed greater powers to decide whether officers should be dismissed and will be given a right to challenge decisions.
Legally qualified chairs (LQCs) have been removed from their position and will instead be legally qualified persons (LQPs), providing independent advice.
The outcome will be determined by a majority panel decision and hearings will continue to be held in public to maintain transparency.
Responding to the announcement, Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) National Chair Steve Hartshorn said: “Corrupt officers have no place in the police service. We agree the police dismissals process must be robust to remove officers who do not belong in the service as swiftly as possible, and can be strengthened, however, many of the regulation changes set to go ahead completely go against what we warned in our submission to the Home Office.
“Chief constables presiding once again over misconduct hearings is a huge retrograde step during a pivotal moment where we are looking to improve the service and restore public confidence.
“Legally qualified chairs were introduced for sound and legally reasoned judgments, reduced appeals, fair and consistent decisions, greater transparency and increased public confidence. It was a system which was working, and the Government should have taken steps towards strengthening the role of LQCs, who were unbiased and free of undue political and social pressures.
“A return to the dark days, a return to kangaroo courts, whereby an officer is already guilty in the eyes of the chief officer before any evidence is heard, and they already know what outcome they want to see, is deeply concerning.
“There may be an independent panel behind them, with a legally qualified person, and the outcome is determined by a majority panel, but giving chief constables the power to challenge could see them appeal until they get the outcome they want, which is not necessarily in the best interest of those involved in the case.
“The Government continues to refer to them as ‘independent misconduct panels’, although they will now no longer be truly independent.”
PFEW Deputy National Chair Tiff Lynch said: “Ministers want chief constables to act fast, and chief constables want to act more swiftly. We would urge them to back our Time Limits campaign to make a real difference to the dismissals process, to make it fairer and more robust for both police officers and complainants, paving the way for the rebuilding of public confidence which is paramount.
“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 show 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.
“We are disappointed with the outcome of Home Office review into the process of police officer dismissals; and the fact that the full report has not been disclosed, given the gravity of these extensive changes, but we will keep on working closely with the Government and key stakeholders to ensure our members are treated fairly as we continue to support them throughout these processes.”
The law will also be changed to ensure all officers must be appropriately vetted during their service and to enable officers who fail a re-vetting test whilst in post to be dismissals.
“We support stringent vetting of officers to identify and remove undesirable individuals from the police service, but let’s not forget that the current state of policing is down to chief constables for failing to implement stringent vetting practices, maintain high standards and provide training to those who investigate corrupt officers,” continued Ms Lynch.
“Police officers must have confidence that they have the right to fair and transparent disciplinary processes to ensure individual bias does not govern or influence decisions which have serious consequences on an individual’s career and wellbeing.
“If any of these potential changes deter any police officer or police staff member from challenging or reporting the inappropriate or illegal actions of senior leaders or chief constables for fear of failing a future vetting check, public safety and confidence of serving police officers will be further eroded.
“We have requested and await the College of Policing to share the Equality Impact Assessment to ensure no group of officers are unjustifiably disadvantaged by the revised code,” she concluded.