Select Committee on Home Affairs First Report

  E: DELAYS IN THE PROCESS (continued)

Completion of other proceedings and 'fast tracking'

160. ACPO submitted that the present rules left them in the position that, even where the evidence of serious misconduct against an officer is strong, they were unable to do anything other than suspend him on full pay until the full disciplinary processes were completed. This situation was aggravated by the fact that the disciplinary proceedings cannot generally be pursued until after any criminal (or other) proceedings relating to the same officer have been completed. They called for a power in appropriate cases to pursue disciplinary proceedings before criminal proceedings were completed, and for a power to take that disciplinary action under a 'fast track' procedure.[320]

161. There was widespread agreement that some form of move in this direction was appropriate, but relatively little agreement on key issues of detail. In making their case for change, ACPO referred to situations where 'culpability is unequivocal' or 'blatant misbehaviour' where officers were the 'subject of serious criminal or disciplinary allegations'. In such cases they suggested that chief officers might have power to dismiss the officer or suspend him without pay, under an accelerated procedure involving something more akin to a 'presentation of the facts' than a full hearing, subject of course to an appeal. Where the officer was suspended without pay a hearing should take place within 28 days, as would any appeal against fast track dismissal. There might be some risk in certain cases of potential prejudice to a criminal trial, if it became known that an officer had been dismissed or had some other action taken against him, but this would be no more or less the case than other employees in other walks of life faced (including civilian police employees who could be involved in the very same incident as the police officer).[321] The power to discipline officers in this way would be another instance where chief officers would have similar powers to other employers.

162. Sir Paul Condon submitted that the fast track process was needed to enable "the dismissal of an officer without the need for a full disciplinary hearing. There are rare but notable occasions where, in order to preserve the good name of the service, the instant dismissal of an officer is justified and ought to take place". He referred to a "means of dismissing individuals known to be corrupt but where, as has happened in the MPS, it has proved difficult formally to hold officers to account".[322] Mr Crew argued that chief officers should be "empowered to dismiss any officer on evidence of 'gross misconduct' by way of disciplinary proceedings held immediately after the initial gathering of evidence, and separated from any subsequent criminal investigation".[323]

163. The Police Superintendents' Association envisaged a somewhat more restricted process.[324] A fast track procedure would need to include a definition of what was 'serious misconduct', which would not in practice cover very many cases. There would need to be proper legal safeguards "including all existing provisions for ensuring that an officer under investigation is presumed innocent until proved guilty, has the right to legal representation and has a reasonable time to prepare his / her defence". They envisaged that a period of six weeks would be needed, and rejected the idea of suspension without pay (noting, as had ACPO,[325] the particularly serious consequences of suspension for a police officer). The principle of dealing with disciplinary matters ahead of criminal matters was accepted except where the CPS advised that this would prejudice criminal proceedings.[326]

164. The Police Federation version of a 'fast track' was a more restricted concept still.[327] They did accept that "It is unsatisfactory that an officer who admits gross misconduct is kept on the payroll merely awaiting criminal conviction". They regarded ACPO's ideas as unworkable, and rejected the proposal of having a 'presentation of facts' rather than an examination of the evidence, but they were prepared to agree that chief officers should be able to go ahead with disciplinary proceedings in cases where there was clear evidence of misconduct where this was not prejudicial to a criminal trial. The decision as to whether the proceedings would be prejudicial or not would rest with the CPS.

165. HM Inspectorate of Constabulary agreed that "where the officer's misconduct has been gross and evidenced, it cannot be right that the officer enjoys the benefit of full pay on suspension whilst the matter comes before the disciplinary authority a year or more later".[328] They rejected the idea of suspension without pay, but supported a 'fast track' process where misconduct was "both gross and well evidenced". Such a process would not be a summary process and would give accused officers the opportunity to formulate their defence and to obtain advice. The process might require more than one month, but should take not more than two.

166. We agree that chief officers should be able to go ahead with disciplinary proceedings in advance of criminal proceedings where the CPS indicates that it is satisfied that those proceedings will not be prejudiced. The DPP told us that this appeared to be a feasible suggestion for the CPS, though in practice they might frequently have to indicate that there was a danger of prejudice.[329] We note that the Criminal Law Committee of the Law Society took the view in their evidence to us that there was currently scope for taking disciplinary action ahead of criminal proceedings.[330]

167. We also agree in principle that there is a need for an expedited disciplinary process which could involve dismissal where there is clear evidence of serious misconduct, or alternatively for suspension on reduced pay where the circumstances are slightly less serious. However, there is a difficulty in that in many such cases-since almost all serious cases will involve possible criminal proceedings as well-the CPS may not be satisfied that there is no prejudice to criminal proceedings. ACPO suggested that "difficulties in relation to criminal matters should not arise because the ... decision [to dismiss or suspend without pay] would be based on the facts known at the time rather than any formal examination of the evidence".[331] But this begs another question, namely the nature of the evidence that a chief constable is to regard as so compelling that immediate dismissal without a full hearing if justified; is he, for example to satisfy himself to something close to the criminal standard of proof? Sir Paul Condon suggested that only "a handful"of cases a year might be subject to this procedure. We agree that the procedure should be capable of being brought into action only rarely if officers' rights are to be reasonably protected. We accordingly recommend that the fast track procedure should only be used where a chief constable is satisfied-to a higher standard of proof than simply the balance of probabilities-that the alleged incidents have occurred, and further that use of a fast track procedure would not prejudice a subsequent criminal trial.

320  Appendix 2 and QQ 95-111. The supplementary evidence from the Metropolitan Police Commissioner (see Appendix 31) included examples of cases where officers in the Metropolitan Police were arrested in circumstances where there was overwhelming evidence of guilt (of blackmail and of theft), but in which nearly 4 years and one year respectively-during which time the officers were suspended on full pay-elapsed before the officers could be dismissed.  Back

321  Q 96; and see Appendix 3. Back

322  Appendix 9. Back

323  Appendix 21. Back

324  Appendix 4 paras 3.1-3.10; Q 201 ff. Back

325  Q 106. Back

326   Back

327  Appendices 5 and 6; QQ 644-646; see also memorandum from the Metropolitan Police branch of the Federation Appendix 17. Back

328  Appendix 15 para 5.2. Back

329  QQ 898-900. Back

330  Appendix 24 para 7; they also suggested that the practice of not investigating a complaint until after related criminal proceedings involving the complainant should not be regarded as a blanket rule, with closer consideration given instead as to whether there would actually be a problem in the particular case. Back

331  Appendix 2; there may be a parallel with the position of other employment situations, in which the dismissal or disciplining of an employee is not regarded as prejudicing a criminal trial arising from the same circumstances. Back

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