Amendment 19

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Committee (1st Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 20 October 2021.

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Lord Paddick:

Moved by Lord Paddick

19: After Clause 5, insert the following new Clause—“National standards of competent and careful constableFor the purposes of sections 4 and 5 the Secretary of State shall, after consultation with such persons as they consider appropriate, publish national standards expected of designated persons.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would require the Secretary of State to publish national standards of what would be expected of a competent and careful constable under sections 4 and 5, against which their driving should be judged.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, Amendment 19 is supported by my noble friend Lady Randerson and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. Amendment 20 is supported by the noble Lord, Lord Bellingham. I asked for these two amendments to be degrouped from the group we have just debated because that group was about the principle of police officers being given dispensation from the usual tests applied in cases of dangerous and careless driving. These amendments are about a separate issue—the consistency of the likelihood of police officers being prosecuted on not.

The changes proposed by the Government in Clauses 4 and 5 are problematic in that they define the threshold for prosecution or conviction for dangerous or careless driving, set against,

“what would be expected of a competent and careful constable who has undertaken the prescribed training.”

The Police Federation, which provided a draft of this amendment, has reminded me that, while groups of forces tend to pool their resources in police driver training, none the less, there is no national standard. What would be expected of a competent and careful constable who has undertaken the prescribed training can vary from police force to police force. A tactic, such as physical contact by a police vehicle with a stolen motorbike, or a motorbike being driven by a suspect involved in an armed robbery, causing the driver of the motorcycle to crash, might be trained for and practised in some police forces but not in others. To be clear about what I mean, the police driver knocks the criminal off the motorbike by colliding with it—a tactic used by the Metropolitan Police Service.

This could result in a police driver, who was driving in exactly the same way as another police driver in a different police force, being prosecuted and potentially convicted; while the other officer in almost identical circumstances would not face any sanction, if that police driver had been trained in that technique and it was part of the policy of that officer’s police force. Amendment 19 proposes that a national standard be established to ensure consistency in the application of the law, and certainty for police drivers.

Amendment 20, proposed by the Police Federation and based on its wealth of experience in this area, offers an alternative approach by providing a reasonable excuse defence to an allegation of dangerous or careless driving. Instead of adhering to the standard of a careful and competent driver, a police driver could avoid prosecution or conviction, provided the departure from the standard was necessary, proportionate and reasonable in all the circumstances. This would take account of the relevant driver policy and training, the split-second decisions faced in real time by the driver and the honestly held belief of the driver at the time. This is similar to the dispensation allowed to armed officers who have to make split-second decisions to use their firearms.

I am not a lawyer and I cannot elaborate on whether such a reasonable cause defence is accepted in other similar scenarios. I beg to move Amendment 19.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative 9:15, 20 October 2021

My Lords, we are extraordinarily lucky to have the expertise of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. I have just one anxiety about a national standard: conditions in the Metropolitan Police area are different from those facing, say, Devon and Cornwall Police. Devon and Cornwall Police might not have to dismount someone riding a motorbike illegally very often, whereas I suspect it is something the Metropolitan Police has to do quite often. On the one hand, I can see the benefit of national police standards, but I have an anxiety that they might not meet the different needs of different types of police force.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am grateful to the noble Earl for his intervention. I think national standards would say that the tactic of colliding with a stolen motorbike was an acceptable tactic that officers could be compared against whether or not it was actually used by particular forces, bearing in mind the circumstances faced by different forces. So, legally, officers in Devon and Cornwall could use that tactic according to the national standard, but it would be very rare for them to use it—if ever at all.

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport)

My noble friend has raised the issue of national standards. I want to approach this issue in a slightly different way. I have added my name to the amendment because I have concerns about clarity. The existing standards are set out in the 1988 Act, and we as drivers are all familiar with them. We passed our driving tests however long ago, but on an almost daily basis we practise following those standards—fairly rigorously, I hope.

According to this legislation, we are now moving to a set of standards based on a format for training of which we, with the exception of my noble friend, have no real concept. We do not understand exactly what is involved in this training and what is expected of police drivers. Indeed, I am sure this debate has been very instructive for us all in finding out a bit more about it.

Add that issue to the fact that standards are different from one part of the country to another and we have a difficult situation for the Government in applying this new approach. Good law has to be easily understandable. Publicising the details of these standards—making sure that the public, as well as police officers, understand them—is essential for acceptance by the general public. That will be essential if cases brought under this legislation are to succeed in court.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, I have a confession to make: I love the traffic police. I have spent many happy hours in the front of a police van with an automatic number plate recognition machine, spotting illegal drivers. The fascinating thing about criminals is that not only do they break the law on drugs, guns and so on, but they do not pay insurance on their cars either. If I were a criminal, I would make sure that my car was perfectly legal, but for some reason they do not. So the traffic police are incredibly successful at catching criminals; at one point—I do not know if this is still true—their arrest rate was far higher than that of the average police officer here in London.

In the 12 years that I sat on the police authority, I took advantage of that to go out with the traffic police. I remember one spectacular day when they had a car-crushing machine next to the A1. All the vehicles speeding down the A1 saw that machine and slowed to legal limits. We were not actually crushing cars that had been taken that day; they had brought some cars out with them from central London. So I am a big fan. The traffic OCU serves an incredible function of keeping our roads safe.

I support Amendment 19. Of course, everybody expects the police who respond to blue-light emergencies to drive fast, overtake, go through red lights and so on, and it is right that the police are given the necessary legal protections to do their job in these situations. Then there are more controversial and dangerous tactics, such as officers aggressively ramming moped drivers who refuse to stop. We cannot leave that for the courtroom to decide—it has to be a political decision. Whether a tactic meets the standard of a reasonable and careful constable is political, because you cannot leave police officers uncertain about whether their behaviour is legal. It would also leave the public unsure about what standard of driving you can expect from our public servants. Amendment 19 addresses that issue and is an extremely neat solution.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, the amendments would improve the Bill. The legislation in some respects is too loose, and needs to be tightened. I hope that, when we move from Committee to Report in a few weeks, the Minister will have had time to reflect on the previous group but also on some of the points being made here, because that will make what we all want much more likely to happen. I hope that he will be able to reflect on the points that noble Lords have made and come forward with the Government’s own amendments to take account of those points, some of which are exceedingly logical and good and would enhance the Bill and what the Government are seeking to achieve.

The amendments raise key issues in relation to the police driving provisions. The aim of the clause is not to allow the police to drive without safeguards or scrutiny but to ensure that they are not criminalised for what they have been trained to do. Amendment 19 raises a reasonable question about national standards for competent and carefully trained drivers. As we will come on to in Amendment 20, there are various levels of training, and the number of fully trained officers will differ between forces. However, that does not alter the fact that there is a need to set out in more detail and with more clarity what a nationally recognised standard will look like. Will it be covered in the training that officers receive, and is the Minister confident that the Bill makes it clear what a national standard means? The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, posed a reasonable question, which was answered well by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, about what that means between different police forces such as Devon and Cornwall and the Metropolitan Police, and how they do things. Those are the sort of points that the Minister needs to raise.

On Amendment 20, the idea of a reasonableness defence is an issue that officers are concerned about, which was raised consistently in the Commons. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, did not mention that quite as much as he did the national standards, but we need to ask how this whole area of reasonableness, which is used in the courts, stands with respect to this Bill. It is difficult to craft an answer, but the issue goes back to the level of training that an officer receives, which varies from force to force. It not only varies from force to force, however: the level of training varies within the police force.

Let me give an example for clarity. If I am a member of the public on the street, I know generally what a response car looks like, and you would expect a response car driver to have had the highest level of training, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said he had received in the past. It is about a proper response driver responding to emergencies or pursuing a vehicle. That is what you would expect if you were a member of the public. But not all police cars are response cars. What about a police van? I have seen police vans driving after people. What happens then?

Is this level of training—police pursuit—available only to response drivers? What about other drivers, or will they be compared to the normal standard? This takes the police into very difficult territory. I have not been a serving police officer like the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, but I can only imagine that if someone said, “Officer, a mile down the road there is a really serious incident”, and a police van driver did not put the blue lights on and go down there, and as a consequence a murder or a rape took place, people are not going to say, “That officer driving the police van was quite right; he did not respond in the way that he should because he has not had the proper level of training”. This takes us into difficult territory, and it is also about the reputation of the police.

What happens, however, if the police van driver does that, but then crashes or injures somebody else? I thought that was the point of Amendment 20 and the reasonableness defence: you would expect the police officer driving the van to do that, even though they are not trained to the level of the police response driver. From the Bill, however, it is not clear whether the police van driver—I am making that up as an example—would be able to do that and respond to an emergency situation with the same level of protection that the Bill tries to give to a response-level trained driver, whereas the public would expect them both to respond in the same way.

That is the point of the reasonableness test that Amendment 20 seeks to drive into the Bill. I hope that I have given a clear enough example of the sort of situation that might arise for a police officer, whether operating in Devon and Cornwall, the middle of London, Sheffield, Cardiff or wherever.

This is the point of the Committee: it drives that level of detail that seeks to clarify the way the legislation is drafted—as we saw with the previous grouping, where there is a real problem around the phrase “police purpose”—but also tries to ensure that the legislation delivers in both its wording and its intention.

On the drafting of the Bill, can the Minister just give us some assurance that officers with basic police driver training would be protected if they found themselves having to respond to an incident that ideally required a higher level of training? That is a fundamental question and if I were a police officer driving a vehicle that was not a response vehicle, I would want to know whether I was protected by law in the way that we seek to protect other drivers.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative

My Lords, I think the answer to the noble Lord’s question is that, if the police officer is driving more aggressively than he is trained to do and he has an accident, he is in trouble because he is driving outside of what he is trained to do.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

May I speak? Sorry, I do not know what the rules are. That is the point that I was making, and I am asking the Minister: what is the answer? The public’s perception of that would be, frankly, dreadful from the police point of view. There is an issue here for the Minister to resolve and to clarify for the police forces and the people driving.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative

I have two points: one is that we are in Committee, so we can speak as many times as we like, and the other is that the public may have to be disappointed, because the police officer may not be able to do everything that the public expect. The public could complain; there is a complaints procedure, so the police could explain why they could not respond in the way that the public would expect.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

Thank you, my Lords—I have enjoyed this debate. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for setting out the rationale for his amendments and I thank all other noble Lords who made a contribution. I was particularly delighted to hear that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, is such a supporter of the traffic police, although I found her relish for car crashes a little upsetting.

In the case of Amendment 19, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, is right to highlight the importance of high and consistent standards of police driver training, both to safeguard public safety on the roads and to provide an objective benchmark for police driving during any post-incident proceedings. The new test allows for higher standards of driver training, as we discussed on the previous set of amendments, and competence will be taken into consideration when deciding whether to prosecute a police officer for an offence of dangerous or careless driving. Therefore, it is necessary to be able to objectively assess whether the officer or instructor has undertaken the appropriate enhanced driver training or has otherwise acquired specialist driver skills.

Clauses 4 and 5 therefore already require the Home Secretary to prescribe the appropriate training in regulations. I refer the noble Lord to new subsections (1A)(b) and (1B)(a) of Section 2A of the Road Traffic Act 1988, as inserted by Clause 4(3). There is a similar provision in Clause 5. The regulations will prescribe the minimum training standards that chief officers, police drivers and police driver instructors should comply with, which I hope goes some way towards answering the question of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. Specifying the appropriate training and skills in regulations will enable them to be readily updated to reflect changes in the police driver training curriculum and to operational good practice, emerging threats and crime trends, or new technology utilised by either criminals or the police, new case law, and learning from incidents involving drivers.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson pointed out, consistency is important, so the National Police Chiefs’ Council has been working closely with police forces to standardise police driver training across England and Wales. This will ensure that police drivers are trained to a similar standard, depending on their role, and the legal test for police drivers will have a fairer comparator. The regulations will require police drivers to take account of the national police driver learning programme and the authorised professional practice for police drivers, published on the College of Policing website, which allows tactics and skills to be readily updated. I think some of this debate has strayed into police tactics, as well as the rules and regulations.

The regulations are being drafted in consultation with stakeholders, including police driving leads and the College of Policing, and will be made by the Secretary of State in early 2022. The regulations will be subject to the negative procedure. However, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that it is important that the public are at least made aware of those, and they should certainly understand them.

In short, the combination of the regulations to be made under Clauses 4 and 5 and the College of Policing’s published authorised professional practice achieve the outcome that the noble Lord seeks; namely, publicly available national standards.

On Amendment 20, the Government’s view is that the proposed introduction by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, of a reasonableness statutory defence for police drivers is unnecessary. The existing proposed legislation is sufficient to provide police drivers with the protection they need. As the noble Lord said himself at Second Reading,

“Protecting police officers in vehicular pursuit of dangerous criminals is right, but so is protecting innocent members of the public caught up in the chase.”—[Official Report, 14/9/21; col. 1287.]

The state has a duty under Article 2 of the ECHR to protect the right to life. Such a wide defence would not balance the need to give the police the confidence to pursue dangerous criminals on the one hand and the need to avoid doing so in such a way as to create disproportionate risks to other road users. The tiny minority of police officers who drive in an inappropriate manner should be held to account.

I hope that I have been able to go some way to persuading the noble Lord that the issue of national standards has already been addressed through the Bill and elsewhere, and that a reasonableness defence would not be appropriate. I therefore ask him to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 9:30, 20 October 2021

My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. To my noble friend Lady Randerson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, I say that I have just started cycling in London again and it is terrifying; we need more traffic police.

I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, particularly for the way he absolutely hit the nail on the head with his example of a police van driver who is not an advanced driver who is told by a member of the public that, 100 yards down the road, somebody is being murdered, but who has not received the level of training that they will be judged against. In the debate on the previous group, the Minister said that if they have not had the training, they will be judged like an ordinary driver; he also said that the legislation provides the protection that they need. But the example from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, shows how they will not get protection under the law as proposed and drafted by the Government in the Bill.

The Minister said that these changes have been made in consultation. Dare I suggest that they were not made in consultation with the Police Federation? They have not been made in consultation with the officers who will be directly affected by the legislation, because it was the Police Federation that asked me to propose these amendments to the Bill. Again, I am afraid I must suggest that the Minister has been rather let down by his brief in not being able to address the very real concerns that noble Lords around the House have expressed. We will clearly come back to this on Report, but at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 19 withdrawn.

Clause 6 agreed.

Amendment 20 not moved.

Clause 7: Duties to collaborate and plan to prevent and reduce serious violence