POLICE REFORM BILL
C. REMOVAL OF SENIOR OFFICERS
43. Part 4 of the Bill develops existing powers
under the Police Act 1996 for the removal of chief constables
and other senior officers in the interests of efficiency or effectiveness.
It is police authorities who appoint chief constables and can
call on them to retire. The Home Secretary can already require
a police authority to call on a chief constable to retire in the
interests of efficiency or effectiveness. Both a former Commissioner
of the Metropolitan Police and the current President of the Association
of Chief Police Officers have acknowledged:
"In the recent past...existing powers
have been shown to be not effective in taking care of the public
interest and the reputation of the service. Therefore I fully
acknowledge the need for reform and the need to extend some of
"I think the powers that the Home Secretary
had previously under the Police Act were seen to be deficient
in the detail".
44. The main changes proposed in the Bill appear
to be that the Home Secretary will be able to require a chief
constable to resign (as an alternative to retirement) and
that he will be able to suspend a chief constable. According
to the Minister, the provision for resignation is because chief
constables are getting younger.
Compulsory retirement would bring with it an immediate pension,
but resignation would not. The Joint Committee on Human Rights
has considered whether the potential loss of pension rights might
breach the European Convention and has concluded that it is unlikely
to do so.
45. The proposed power for the Home Secretary
to suspend a chief constable is not supported by the Association
of Police Authorities:
"We welcome the ability of the police
authority to take a judgment about whether that is appropriate
in the light of public confidence locally in the force but we
think it is wholly inappropriate that the Home Secretary should
take the power to direct the police authority to suspend...For
a Home Secretary to be able to say to a police authority "You
must suspend X" if the police authority does not feel that
actually that is warranted, that could lead to a direct conflict".
46. The Minister told us:
"there will be two tests essentially.
One is that it is necessary to maintain public confidence in the
Police Service, so something very serious would have had to have
happened for the judgment to be that the chief constable should
no longer be actively in their post. Secondly, the Secretary of
State would have to be actively considering using further powers
to require the chief constable to retire or resign".
47. The operation of these procedures is to be
subject to a protocol agreed with the Association of Chief Police
Officers and the Association of Police Authorities. We welcome
this. However, it is not clear from the evidence we have received
or from the debates in the Lords why exactly the Government feels
these extra powers are required or why the existing powers have
proved ineffective. Clearly it is difficult to explain in public
how the powers would have been used in relation to actual cases
in the past. Nonetheless, in an era of evidence-based policy making,
we would have expected the Minister to be able to put a more persuasive
case for these new powers.
It is no particular comfort to be assured that these are powers
to be used as a last resort.
48. We believe that, if the Home Office has
concluded that strengthened powers are needed for the suspension
and removal of chief constables, it should be able to give a fuller
explanation of how they might be used. We would expect these powers
to be used only in exceptional circumstances.
49. We recommend that the proposed protocol
on the operation of the powers to remove senior officers be published
before the Bill reaches report stage. We hope the House, before
agreeing to these clauses, will press Ministers for a fuller explanation
of why they are necessary and why the matter cannot be left to
50. We note that the Metropolitan Police Service
would also like the Bill amended to allow for a senior officer
who has become eligible for retirement but who is suspended for
disciplinary or criminal proceedings not to be allowed to retire
until those proceedings have been completed.
Officers below the rank of chief officer can be prevented from
retiring. It is anomalous that this does not apply to the most
senior officers and runs the risk, in rare cases, of bringing
the police service into disrepute. A senior officer within two
years of retirement under a fixed term agreement could, if suspended,
be confident of retiring before any disciplinary case was concluded.
51. We recommend that police regulations be
amended to prevent the retirement of any senior officer suspended
on disciplinary grounds until the matter is resolved.
41 Lords Hansard, 12 March, col. 733 (Lord Condon,
former Metropolitan Police Commissioner). Back
Q. 41 (Sir David Phillips). Back
Q. 567 (John Denham). Back
Fifteenth Report, 2001-02, HC 706, para 24. Back
Q. 427 (Ms Leech) and Q. 431 (Dr Henig). Back
Q. 571 (John Denham). Back
Q. 516-7 (John Denham). Back
Lords Hansard, 12 March 2002, col. 734 (Lord Rooker). Back
Ev 121. Back