Select Committee on Armed Forces Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Defence Police Federation


  Prior to 1987 MDP jurisdiction was subject to a geographical constraint. Full constabulary powers were applicable when operating within Defence establishments. When outside the wire constabulary powers was limited to within 15 miles of such establishments when dealing with Crown property or persons subject to service discipline.

  The MoD Police Act, 1987, removed the uncertainties caused by the 15-mile limit. Section 2 extended MDP powers when outside establishments to deal with MoD civilians and those involved in Defence contracts. It also empowered MDP officers to assist Home Department Police Forces in the "vicinity" of Defence establishments. This provision has been interpreted by the Courts to be applicable to cases where a constable of the local police force has requested the assistance of the MDP to deal with a particular incident. It has not been extended to allow for standing or general requests under which the MDP may take on the performance of agreed policing duties in areas close to defence land, for example, mixed housing estates.

  The passage of time and changing nature of MoD estate and its policing needs since 1987 have revealed weaknesses and deficiencies in the Ministry of Defence Police Act. In the past the Force has been deployed, in the most part, on static duties at various locations throughout the MoD estate. Economies in the interest of efficiencies have meant that the MoD community must now be policed, not from large static units, but using smaller more mobile Area Policing Teams moving from base to base and responding to calls. Contact with the public has increased and with it the likelihood of MDP happening across emergency situations or even simply incidents where the presence of an on-duty officer would serve the public interest.

  Existing legislation clearly limits the extent to which MDP have the powers and privileges of constables when operating off MoD property and therefore their ability to carry out their defence duties, and to act effectively in support of the Home Department Police Forces. This we believe is a weakness that needs correcting. Officers on the ground should be able to determine with a reasonable degree of certainty whether they have jurisdiction or not.

  MDP, in common with other police forces, have a common purpose to uphold the law fairly and firmly, to prevent crime, to pursue and bring to justice those who break the law, to protect the community and to be seen to do this with integrity, common sense and sound judgement. There is a strong sense of professional service within the police community to maintain this common purpose both on and off duty. The Defence Police Federation's position has always been that MDP officers should be afforded the protection of the office of constable when required to act. The general public has a natural and reasonable expectation that all police officers particularly if in uniform will render assistance in emergency situations regardless of where they occur. We have campaigned for some years to have this position rectified and therefore welcome proposals to enact legislation by way of the Armed Forces Bill.


  We would like to make clear at the outset that MDP officers are not looking for additional opportunities to place themselves on duty when outside their normal patrol area. The provisions which have been proposed will enable the Chief Constable of another force to request assistance from MDP in relation to a particular incident, investigation, or operation. This seems eminently sensible and will allow MDP to be more effective in terms of the Government's commitment to maximising police resources and to providing a seamless service to the public at all times.

  It is also proposed to extend jurisdiction to allow MDP officers to deal with emergency situations when going about their normal Defence duties where that action is necessary to save life or to prevent or minimise injury. However, this clause has been tightly circumscribed and does not provide jurisdiction for a MoD Police officer to act in situations where a timely intervention is required, but where the threat or use of violence are not evident. Examples of such situations might be the use or trafficking of drugs, theft and burglary. The latter being the example cited by the Rt Hon Andrew MacKinlay during the second reading of the Bill (901). Another example of a real situation that might cause difficulties is as follows:

  Whilst carrying out anti-terrorist patrols around the exterior of an MoD establishment, MDP observed a vehicle exiting a public house car park. The vehicle was being driven erratically leading to the suspicion of the driver being under the influence of alcohol. MDP contacted West Mercia police to report their suspicion. Before the radio request was completed the vehicle was involved in a serious road accident. The driver was given First Aid by the MDP officers at the scene. The driver subsequently died in hospital. The MDP officers did not attempt to stop the vehicle because the vehicle was travelling on a public road outwith their jurisdiction and the accident occurred prior to a request from West Mercia police to deal with the situation.

  The MDP officers dealt with this incident exactly as they should have; they had no powers to stop the vehicle unless requested to do so by the local force which would then offer the MDP officers a degree of protection under section 2(2)(d) of the MDP Act 1987. If the MDP officers had had the ability to act on their own professional initiative right at the outset of this incident by stopping the vehicle at a very early stage, the incident may have not occurred or had a less serious outcome. Even if a member of the public had approached the MDP officers prior to the driver of the vehicle attempting to actually drive the car and informed them that the driver was unfit through drink, there would still have been a legal gap in the powers of the MDP officers to act to prevent the offence without prior discussion with the local force.

  We have chosen this particular scenario because even given the new powers that are being proposed here, the MDP officer in this case will still have a difficult decision to make before he/she acts (whether they can justify intervening of their own volition to prevent harm). As currently drafted, the officer must believe on reasonable grounds that it is necessary to act in order to save life or in order to prevent or minimise personal injury. We are concerned that there may be difficulties where there is a risk of injury and disputes may arise as to the extent to which that risk justified the officer considering it necessary to act. It is our view that this power should not be this narrow, and should be extended to include any situation that would normally justify a 999 call for assistance, and where the MDP officer believes that immediate action is necessary as there is insufficient time to call the local police as this would severely frustrate the purpose of the intervention.

  Under existing arrangements MDP officers who come across suspected offenders when off base, or are requested by members of the public to assist, for example, at the scene of a serious road traffic accident, have only the powers of a private citizen. These powers are severely limited in their scope and utility and were never designed to protect police officers acting outwith their main role and jurisdiction and giving mutual aid to other police forces.

  A citizen can choose not to get involved and indeed is frequently advised officially not to "have a go". A constable does not have that luxury of turning a blind eye to the incident. If the officer fails to act, he or she, could end up facing disciplinary charges. On the other hand if the officer does become involved and makes a mistake he or she could be subject to investigation by the Police Complaints Authority.

  The extension we have suggested would assist to alleviate such difficulties.

  The Bill also contains provisions that facilitate the promulgation of Regulations in place of the current discipline code. We welcome these proposals that will place MDP discipline procedures formally on a statutory footing and will also allow the alignment of MDP procedures with those applicable to Home Department Forces.

  However, with the Human Rights Act now in force we would question whether the restrictive appeal rights in Schedule 5 Paragraph 4 would comply with the Act.

January 2001

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