Disciplinary proceedings: former members of police forces and former special constables

Policing and Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 24th March 2016.

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Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 11:30 am, 24th March 2016

I beg to move amendment 138, in clause 22, page 28, line 35, leave out from “paragraph (a)” to “, or” on line 38.

This amendment is consequential on amendment 139.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 155, in clause 22, page 28, line 41, leave out from “(a)” to end of subsection.

This amendment would remove the time limit on disciplinary proceedings against former members of police forces and former special constables.

Government amendments 139 to 145.

Government new schedule 1—Disciplinary proceedings: former members of MoD Police, British Transport Police and Civil Nuclear Constabulary.

Government amendments 154 and 153.

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The Government amendments in this group are technical amendments to ensure that the provisions of the clause work as intended.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I often say that I have seen at first hand just how far the police have come over the past 30 years. To be frank, I did not get off to the best of starts with the police service, but then I saw excellent elements in it learning painful lessons about what had gone wrong historically, including from the Scarman tribunal and from Macpherson. The police have come a long way from often having poor relationships with communities throughout the country to being one of the most popular institutions in British society. Indeed, all polling evidence shows that the police are between three and four times more popular than we are as Members of Parliament.

Even if the police have come a long way, we are still learning painful lessons from the past. The shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend Andy Burnham, recently convened a powerful seminar on historic injustices, together with Baroness Doreen Lawrence. I will never forget, in particular, the contributions by the Hillsborough families.

Hillsborough was a disaster, a human crush that caused the deaths of 96 people, and injured 766 others, at a football match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough stadium, Sheffield, on 15 April 1989. The 1990 official inquiry into the disaster, the Taylor report, concluded that the main reason for it was the failure of police control. What the families said—it was incredibly moving—on the occasion in question was that they wanted justice and closure, but also accountability from those who presided over some disastrous errors, which led to people being killed on that scale.

As we said earlier in the debate, on Tuesday, we are strongly in favour of a different, more balanced approach towards disciplinary and investigatory arrangements for the police service. For example, I have talked about moving away from a blame culture to a learning culture—a culture that does not take every mistake and every wrong through an investigation and disciplinary process. Having said that, where the police get things badly wrong, of course it is right to act to put them right, because the public interest comes first and the victims deserve nothing less.

The amendment would remove the time limit on the initiating of disciplinary proceedings after an officer leaves the force. We strongly welcome the fact that the Bill provides, for the first time, for disciplinary proceedings to be initiated against former officers in circumstances where misconduct does not come to light until after their time in office. Where the proceedings result in a finding that the officer would have been dismissed had he or she still been serving, that officer will be barred from policing and added to the police barred list.

The Government have stated thus far that matters relating to a former officer’s misconduct must come to the attention of a chief officer within 12 months of an officer leaving the force. Our concern is that the 12-month period could be unduly restrictive. We know from recent experience, such as the Hillsborough inquest, that it may take many more years for campaigners and families to uncover wrongdoing. It is our view that wrongdoing needs to be put right, whenever it occurred, and that the officers concerned should be held to account.

We had constructive discussions earlier this morning, and I hope that the Government will now reflect further on the proposal, not only because of cases such as Hillsborough but to prevent perverse outcomes that might happen when one former officer has been out of the force for 13 months and another has been out for 11. Injustices often take some years to come to public light and scrutiny. There should be accountability in those circumstances.

We have had constructive discussions with the Minister, and I hope that she will consider the clause again and return with fresh proposals. In those circumstances, we would not press the amendment to a vote today.

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I did not say earlier what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Nuttall, but it truly is.

I understand much of what the shadow Minister said, but there are a few points that are important to make. First, the time limit we want to apply is for matters relating to misconduct in employment, not criminal matters. It will of course always be possible to investigate criminal matters, but the clause is intended to deal with a problem that we know has existed, when police officers have retired from forces and not been held accountable for mistakes and misconduct. By way of comparison with other forms of employment, I am a chartered accountant and I used to work for large accounting firms. If something came to light today on a piece of advice that I gave 10 or 15 years ago, there is very little that my former employers could do, because I have left. We have to put this in context. We want to make sure that mistakes that have been made are shown to be investigated properly, for public transparency and confidence in the police.

There is a risk that removing the time limit completely might breach article 8 of the European convention on human rights, and there is a risk of successful legal challenge. We need to be mindful of that. The shadow Minister has talked privately about the possibility of a time limit for a complaint to be made of perhaps 12 months after the date at which the misconduct came to light. I am happy to look at that and get legal advice on whether something like that can be done, but we do need some form of time limit. In that context, I hope that the shadow Minister will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 11:45 am, 24th March 2016

That is a helpful response. The Minister is absolutely right to draw the distinction between criminal proceedings, for which action can and should be taken, and actions that might constitute gross misconduct, for example.

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I meant to make another point in my response, which is that the provision can of course be amended by regulation. Should it prove that 12 months is not the right time limit, the Government could change it in any event.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

We are at one on the principle of accountability; somebody should not escape accountability as a consequence of having left the police service. Therefore a 12-month limit is not appropriate. At this stage, I would not like to arrive at a firm view on whether a time limit should be imposed, but there is flexibility on the Government’s part, which we welcome. We are happy to have discussions with the Government between now and Report, and we hope to be able to resolve the matter then.

Amendment 138 agreed to.

Amendments made: 139, in clause 22, page 28, line 45, at end insert—

“(3B) Regulations made by virtue of subsection (3A) must provide that disciplinary proceedings which are not the first disciplinary proceedings to be taken against the person in respect of the alleged misconduct, inefficiency or ineffectiveness may be taken only if they are commenced within the period specified in the regulations, which must begin with the date when the person ceased to be a member of a police force.”.

This amendment provides for the imposition of time limits on when disciplinary proceedings can be taken against a person who has ceased to be a member of a police force if they are not the first disciplinary proceedings to be taken in respect of the particular alleged misconduct, inefficiency or ineffectiveness.

Amendment 140, in clause 22, page 29, line 16, leave out from “paragraph (a)” to “, or” on line 19.

This amendment is consequential on amendment 141.

Amendment 141, in clause 22, page 29, line 26, at end insert—

“(2C) Regulations made by virtue of subsection (2B) must provide that disciplinary proceedings which are not the first disciplinary proceedings to be taken against the person in respect of the alleged misconduct, inefficiency or ineffectiveness may be taken only if they are commenced within the period specified in the regulations, which must begin with the date when the person ceased to be a special constable.”.

This amendment is the same as amendment 139 save that it relates to special constables rather than members of police forces.

Amendment 142, in clause 22, page 30, line 25, leave out “this section” and insert “subsections (2) and (3)”.

This amendment and amendment 143 are consequential on amendment 145, which inserts subsection (8) into clause 22. They allow for the possibility that subsection (8) will be commenced at a different time from the rest of the clause.

Amendment 143, in clause 22, page 30, line 30, leave out “this section” and insert “subsections (2) and (3)”.

See the explanatory statement for amendment 142.

Amendment 144, in clause 22, page 30, line 30, at end insert—

“, but only if the alleged misconduct, inefficiency or ineffectiveness is such that, if proved, there could be a finding in relation to the person in disciplinary proceedings that the person would have been dismissed if the person had still been a member of a police force or a special constable.”.

This amendment limits the extent to which regulations made in pursuance of section 50(3A) or 51(2B) of the Police Act 1996 (provisions inserted by clause 22 of the Bill) can make provision in relation to former members of police forces and former special constables who leave the police after the coming into force of clause 22 but where the alleged misconduct, inefficiency or ineffectiveness occurred before that date.

Amendment 145, in clause 22, page 30, line 30, at end insert—

“(8) Schedule (Disciplinary proceedings: former members of MoD Police, British Transport Police and Civil Nuclear Constabulary) makes amendments of the Ministry of Defence Police Act 1987, the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003 and the Energy Act 2004 which produce an equivalent effect to the amendments made by this section.”.—

This amendment introduces the new Schedule NS1.

Clause 22, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 23 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 6