Concern over fairness of conduct hearings

Gwent Police Federation conduct lead Annalea Kift has spoken of her concerns about the fairness of future misconduct hearings after changes announced by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC).

NPCC chair Martin Hewitt, in his keynote speech at the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) and NPCC Summit, said it has asked all chief constables to chair more accelerated hearings, “wherever the grounds are met, to swiftly determine the facts”.

In addition, chief constables, he reported, have been asked 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. The NPCC is also calling for amendments to College of Policing guidance.

The Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) believes this it to influence dismissals and hamstring panels.

Annalea, who is also the Gwent branch secretary, said: “The police service must be as open and accountable as possible about its misconduct process, but I’m concerned that these changes will undermine the current system rather than enhance it.

“We already have a system that’s open and accountable but allowing police chiefs to be able to write to chairs of independent panels before they’ve received all of the evidence could strip away that independence and unduly influence proceedings.”

Annalea’s comments were echoed by Phill Matthews, PFEW conduct and performance lead.

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.”