The Government has announced changes to policies for managing police misconduct
Police officers exercise significant powers and it is therefore essential that their conduct is monitored and that any incidents of misconduct are identified and investigated and, where appropriate, that disciplinary sanctions are taken.
What are police misconduct proceedings?
Police misconduct proceedings are intended to investigate and manage the professional conduct of police officers.
Misconduct proceedings usually arise after a complaint or report has been made against a police officer by a member of the public, or if an incident of poor conduct has been identified from within the police force.
If it is determined that the relevant complaint or incident, if proven, would amount to misconduct, then the matter must be investigated. Then, if following investigation it is determined that the relevant officer has “a case to answer” for misconduct, there will either be management action taken at that stage or the case will be referred to misconduct proceedings.
Misconduct proceedings will either be in the form of a misconduct meeting or a misconduct hearing – with misconduct hearings being required for more serious incidents of misconduct.
At the misconduct meeting or hearing, the case against the officer will be put forward and they will be given the opportunity to respond. It will then be determined whether the officer’s conduct amounts to misconduct or gross misconduct and what, if any, disciplinary action should be taken – for example, the officer may be subject to management advice, a written warning, or in some cases dismissal.
Why is the Government reviewing existing police misconduct processes?
The adequacy of existing misconduct and disciplinary processes within police forces in the UK has increasingly come under scrutiny in recent years.
Complaint and misconduct processes against police officers regularly face significant delays, findings of misconduct against officers can be difficult to attain and, where misconduct is identified, sanctions against officers are often minimal.
Additionally, there have recently been a number of high profile cases of police misconduct. For example, the widely criticised strip-search of Child Q, failures in police investigations, such as in the investigation into the murder of Sabina Nessa, and incidents of inappropriate police behaviour, such as the sharing of images and insensitive WhatsApp messages following the murders of Nicole and Bibaa Henry.
There have also been widely publicised incidents of criminal conduct by serving police officers, such as the sexual offences committed by David Carrick and the assault and murder of Sarah Everard by Wayne Couzens.
These examples are sadly far from isolated incidents. Notably, recent inquiries, such as Baroness Casey’s review of the Metropolitan Police Service, have identified systemic failings in managing the integrity of the police force, including failures to adequately vet new and existing officers, inadequate investigations into police misconduct, and reluctance to accept and learn from mistakes.
What changes in police misconduct proceedings have the Government announced?
As a result of these ongoing issues, the Government has pledged that it is committed to improving the management of police misconduct and on 31 August 2023 announced a number of new policies, including that:
- Police Chiefs will chair independent public hearings responsible for removing corrupt officers from their force, with the aim of increasing the transparency of these processes and the accountability of Chief Officers to the police forces they manage.
- There will be changes to the law to ensure that all officers must be properly vetted during their service and to enable officers who fail a re-vetting test whilst in post to be dismissed.
- There will be changes to policy to ensure that a finding of gross misconduct will automatically result in an officer’s dismissal.
- The Government is also working to compile a list of criminal offences which would automatically amount to a finding of gross misconduct on conviction.
The Government has stated that all of the above changes are intended to make it easier to remove police officers guilty of misconduct from the police force.
The Home Office is also opening a consultation on new frameworks to scrutinise police powers at a local level, in which members of the public will be able to comment on interactions between the police and their local community.
The Government’s full announcement can be found here.
Such policy changes are a step in the right direction, however, there remains much public scepticism about the ability of the UK police force to manage the conduct of its police officers, and it is likely that significant and ongoing further action will be required to effectively tackle police misconduct.
Our expert team of police action and human rights solicitors are experienced in representing individuals who have been the victim of police misconduct. If you would like to discuss the options available to you, you can make an enquiry on our website here, or call our office on 0207 632 4300.