Why a statutory public inquiry into the Metropolitan Police Service is needed now
Though the Metropolitan Police Service (“MPS”) has long been shrouded in controversy, the shocking murder of Sarah Everard by Police Officer Wayne Couzens refocused attention on misogyny and sexism within the organisation. Such was the public outcry that on 5 October 2021 Home Secretary Priti Patel announced a public inquiry to investigate the murder of Sarah Everard.
Who will chair the public inquiry?
The inquiry will be chaired by Dame Elish Angiolini. Dame Angiolini is an esteemed lawyer whose previous experience includes producing a comprehensive report for the UK government into deaths in police custody.
What will the public inquiry cover?
The Terms of Reference outlined that the inquiry would be split into two phases. The first phase would examine the conduct of Wayne Couzens and the second phase would look at issues arising out of the first phase: “The findings of Phase 1 will inform the Secretary of State for the Home Department’s consideration of what further, broader, issues arise for policing and the protection of women should be considered in Phase 2 of the Inquiry”.
Crucially, Priti Patel announced that this would not be a statutory public inquiry.
What is a statutory public inquiry?
A statutory public inquiry is one established under Section 1 of the Inquiries Act 2005 (the “Act”). Section 1 of the Act provides that:
“A Minister may cause an inquiry to be held under this Act in relation to a case where it appears to him that— (a) particular events have caused, or are capable of causing, public concern, or (b) there is public concern that particular events may have occurred.”
There have been many statutory inquiries to date, including those in which Saunders Law is currently instructed, namely the Infected Blood Inquiry, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry and the Undercover Policing Inquiry.
Why is a non-statutory inquiry inadequate in this case?
A statutory public inquiry is in this case superior to a non-statutory one for the following reasons:
- It will entitle Sarah Everard’s family to State funded legal representation;
- Such an inquiry will have legal powers to obtain disclosure and compel witnesses; and
- Such an inquiry will be more likely to comply with the State’s human rights obligations.
A statutory inquiry would instil more public confidence in its work. Non-statutory inquiries have previously been the subject of delay and interference, prompting concern over competence and independence. The inquiry into the death of Daniel Morgan perfectly illustrates the problems with non-statutory inquiries. It was delayed extensively (it took over 8 years to produce a report) and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police was found to have directly interfered in the inquiry to obstruct disclosure.
In light of the flaws in the proposed approach taken by Priti Patel and the announced Terms of Reference, the Centre for Women’s Justice (“CWJ”) wrote to Priti Patel asking for her to review her approach and:
- Confirm whether the focus of the inquiry will be on treatment of women within the MPS generally and not just by Wayne Couzens; and
- Confirm that this inquiry will be held under the Act.
CWJ also invited Priti Patel to, at her discretion, expand the focus of the inquiry to all UK police forces.
CWJ have been clear that they wholeheartedly support an independent investigation into what happened with Wayne Couzens, but they also argue that “to view this issue through the lens of Wayne Cozens alone, means the opportunity to fix the systemic issues that leave women vulnerable to these officers, will be missed”.
As CWJ did not receive a response to their correspondence, they issued protective judicial review proceedings in December 2021. Those proceedings challenge the failure of the Home Secretary to place the Inquiry on a statutory footing and the very narrow scope of the inquiry.
Since the issue of legal proceedings, further damning evidence of police misogyny has been reported. On 1 February 2022, the Independent Office of Police Conduct (“IOPC”) published a report into incidents that took place in the Metropolitan Police between 2016-2018 by officers mainly stationed at Charing Cross Police Station. The IOPC found multiple examples of explicit and extreme sexism and misogyny by police officers in WhatsApp conversations, as well as examples of racism, homophobia and disability discrimination. The conversations point to a highly problematic and dangerous culture that exists within the MPS.
The day after the shocking IOPC report was published, Sue Fish, former Nottingham Police Chief, said officers who speak out against colleagues’ sexism and sexual offences can be abruptly moved to other police forces without their consent. Ms Fish has herself alleged that she was sexually assaulted by male colleagues. She warned of a toxic “laddy culture” in policing which allows misogyny and sexual advances to be tolerated.
Saunders Law shares the view of CWJ and the 20 national organisations specialising in violence against women and girls who support their legal action. Without a statutory inquiry that will investigate misogyny within the MPS, this toxic culture will continue to prevail.
CWJ have launched a Crowdjustice campaign to raise funds for their legal action – you can support it here.