Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Memorandum submitted by Chief Police Officers’ Staff Association (PR 106)

In September 2010 and prior to publication of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, CPOSA contributed to the consultation process on "Policing in the 21st Century". At that stage, our submission sought to highlight a number of aspects of the proposed reforms in relation to which chief police officers had significant concerns. In particular, these were with regard to the future arrangements for ‘hiring and firing’ of Chief Constables (and Metropolitan Police Service equivalents) and all other chief police officers.

Members of the national CPOSA Executive Committee are aware that the Public Bill Committee are soon to be debating Clauses 38 to 49 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill together with Parts 1-3 of Schedule 8. We would therefore like to take this opportunity to provide a brief written submission which we trust will assist members of the Bill Committee in their deliberations.

Clause 38 of the Bill deals with the role of a Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) in appointing, suspending and removing from office a Chief Constable. Clause 39 outlines a similar role for a Chief Constable in relation to their Deputy Chief Constable and Clause 40 in relation to their Assistant Chief Constable(s).

All three Clauses are subject to the relevant Parts of Schedule 8 of the Bill. In addition, the Bill indicates that all three Clauses will further be subject to regulations made under section 50 of the Police Act 1996.

Part 1 of Schedule 8 provides a reasonably detailed explanation of the (multilayered and, in our view, unnecessarily lengthy) process to be undertaken before a preferred candidate for a Chief Constable vacancy can be confirmed in post. This process includes a role for the Police and Crime Panel (PCP) and introduces a new ‘public hearing’ stage that aims to bring the appointment of a Chief Constable more in line with the procedures followed by Parliament in relation to public appointments.

CPOSA has no difficulty with this as a basic concept, however we do have some concerns regarding the practicality and impact of some of the suggested processes. For example, we are unsure as to the perceived benefits of the PCP publishing a report in which up to eight of their members may have objected to the appointment of the PCC’s preferred candidate. Furthermore, we fail to see why a Chief Constable confirmation hearing process should take up to three weeks as permitted in the Bill and believe that, with proper planning, it could easily be concluded on the day of the final interviews as at present.

Part 1 of the Schedule is completely silent in relation to the details of the actual process to be followed by a PCC in selecting his or her preferred Chief Constable candidate. Similarly, no details whatsoever are known about the process to be followed by a Chief Constable in appointing a Deputy Chief Constable or an Assistant Chief Constable.

This situation contrasts markedly with the well established procedures that are currently followed by the vast majority of Police Authorities when recruiting and selecting chief officers in accordance with the best practice guidelines in chief officer selection jointly drawn up by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary and the Home Office.

For example, chief officers are already wondering whether, in the case of Chief Constable selection, any interviews undertaken will involve the PCC sitting alone? Or will the PCC sit as the chair of a selection panel, but with the ultimate freedom to select the candidate of their choice (subject to their decision not being vetoed by a subsequent PCP confirmation hearing)?

Similarly, questions are also being asked in relation to what the proposed panel membership for a DCC or an ACC selection process might be? Once more, will these selections be undertaken by a Chief Constable sitting alone or is it envisaged that they will be the chair of a panel, but still retaining the freedom to select the candidate of their choice? In the case of ACC recruitment processes, we anticipate that, if adopting a ‘panel’ approach, a Chief Constable may wish – at very least – to have their DCC sitting alongside them during interview. However, if this approach is taken, who is it envisaged will sit alongside the Chief Constable in a DCC selection process?

CPOSA considers that any regulations made under section 50 of the Police Act 1996 and introduced in support of Part 1 of Schedule 8 of the Bill will need to contain sufficient detail to ensure absolute clarity and transparency in the selection procedures to be followed both by PCCs and by Chief Constables, within which (other than in cases involving a PCP veto) the power to offer promotion to and within the ACPO ranks will solely be vested in a single individual.

(All of the above references to Police and Crime Commissioners, Police and Crime Panels, Chief Constables, Deputy Chief Constables and Assistant Chief Constables and the associated arguments can equally be applied, subject to suitable adjustments in terminology, to the context of the Metropolitan Police Service and the new arrangements outlined in Clauses 42 to 47 of the Bill.)

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Part 2 of Schedule 8 describes in some detail the new arrangements that will exist to enable the suspension and removal from office of a Chief Constable by a PCC. Part 3 of Schedule 8 similarly refers to the new arrangements that will enable the suspension and removal from office of other chief officers by a Chief Constable, although the absence of detailed procedures in Part 3 is quite striking.

In contrast with the well established and transparent procedures that currently exist to cater for such rare events, the absence of adequate and appropriate checks and balances and the lack of independent, professional scrutiny in Parts 2 and 3 of Schedule 8 is a source of great concern to CPOSA members of all ranks.

At present, the power to remove Chief Constables in the interests of efficiency or effectiveness, by requiring them either to retire or resign, is contained within the relevant sections of the Police Act 1996 as amended by subsequent legislation (in particular Sections 30 – 33 of the Police Reform Act 2002). This same legislation also makes it possible for action that may lead to the removal of a Chief Constable in the interests of efficiency or effectiveness to be initiated by the Home Secretary. Within both scenarios, there is clear requirement for independent professional advice to be sought from Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary (or HMCIC in the case of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police). Full details of the procedures to be followed in respect of the removal of Chief Constables are included in a protocol agreed by HMCIC, the Home Office, the Association of Police Authorites and CPOSA in March 2004 and published as an Annex to Police Negotiating Board Circular 04/05.

Parallel provisions allow for the removal of Assistant Chief Constables and Deputy Chief Constables on similar grounds and following similar procedures.

CPOSA’s concerns in relation to Parts 2 and 3 of Schedule 8 of the Bill as currently drafted revolve around the fact that the proposed new arrangements for all chief officers move towards a model of accountability to a single individual rather than to a committee or panel. Thus, as regards suspension and removal from office, the PCC is effectively the final and only arbiter in relation to a Chief Constable, and in the case of other CPOSA members the Chief Constable is the final and only arbiter.

As mentioned above, existing procedures include a clear and specific role for HMIC throughout, in terms of providing independent professional advice. Such a safeguard is not contained in the Bill as currently drafted.

Thus, Part 2 of Schedule 8 makes no reference to a PCC needing to refer either a decision to suspend a Chief Constable or to call for their retirement or resignation to HMCIC. Furthermore, in scrutinising a PCC’s decision to require a Chief Constable to retire or resign, the Bill only indicates that the relevant Police and Crime Panel ‘may’ consult the chief inspector of constabulary.

In Part 3 of Schedule 8 there is no reference at all to HMCIC playing any role in respect of the suspension or removal from office of a DCC or an ACC by their Chief Constable.

Additionally, the powers of a Police and Crime Panel outlined in Part 2 of Schedule 8 are limited to making a recommendation as to whether or not their PCC should call for the retirement or resignation of the Chief Constable. The PCC needs only to consider this recommendation and is not in any way bound by it.

In summary, therefore, under the provisions of the Bill as currently drafted a PCC can remove a Chief Constable from office without obtaining any independent professional advice and could do so against the recommendation of the PCP. Equally, the provisions of Part 3 of Schedule 8 would seem to permit a Chief Constable to remove a DCC or an ACC from office without reference to any external body, so long as before doing so they have consulted their PCC.

We feel sure that the legislators do not intend future chief police officers to feel as vulnerable to potentially arbitrary decisions regarding suspension and removal from office as Schedule 8 of the Bill currently implies.

CPOSA considers that any regulations made under section 50 of the Police Act 1996 and introduced in support of Parts 2 and 3 of Schedule 8 of the Bill will need to contain adequate safeguards, including the requirement for PCCs and Chief Constables to seek independent professional advice from HMCIC in all cases of proposed suspension and removal from office, to ensure that the power to make decisions of this gravity are not solely vested in a single individual.

(All of the above references to Police and Crime Commissioners, Police and Crime Panels, Chief Constables, Deputy Chief Constables and Assistant Chief Constables and the associated arguments can equally be applied, in broad terms, to the context of the Metropolitan Police Service and the new arrangements outlined in Clauses 48 and 49 of the Bill, the main difference being that the Home Secretary retains a role in the process for suspending and removing the Commissioner and the Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service.)

February 2011