The independence of future misconduct hearings could be undermined by changes to the process announced by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC).
That’s the view of South Wales Police Federation chair Steve Treharne 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 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 had 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.
Steve said: “I have very real concerns about this. The system we currently have in place is fair, open and transparent with independent panels made up of officers and lay members. The process is already robustly regulated and the words of Mr Hewitt might be purely an effort to satisfy the community that swift and robust action will be delivered in these matters, so that that the public retains confidence in the misconduct process.
“We also have to remember that there must also be equally weighted confidence from the officers who are subjected to these processes and it cannot be seen to be a one-sided argument or proposal. There needs to be a fair and transparent system for both sides of the process so that officers can accept that they have been dealt with fairly throughout. There has to be total confidence that the course of natural justice will always be followed.
“I am also not sure why the suggestion from Mr Hewitt that he expects all chief constables to chair more accelerated hearings wherever the grounds are met, to swiftly determine the facts has been made? Where the grounds for accelerated hearings are met then clearly this is the natural avenue for the process. From my experience in these matters, accelerated hearings are always arranged when the grounds are met. To not undertake accelerated hearings when the grounds are met would be an unnecessary burden on the taxpayer, due to the high cost attributed to holding misconduct hearings.
“There’s a very real risk that by allowing chief constables to write to the panel chairs before they’ve had chance to hear all the evidence that the independence of the panels is undermined.”
Steve’s comments were echoed by Phill Matthews, conduct and performance lead for PFEW.
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.”