The government has announced that senior police officers will be given greater powers to sack rogue staff members from their forces under plans to overhaul the disciplinary process.
Officers will face automatic dismissal if found guilty of gross misconduct. There are a variety of types of gross misconduct which should not always automatically justify dismissal and cases should be dealt with on their own merits. In the most serious cases of honesty/ integrity issues and high profile matters which have been seen in the news in recent years, officers are routinely dismissed.
Until we see further proposals for the new disciplinary regulations it is difficult to comment on these proposals by the government.
We understand that the reforms will see Chief Constables, or other senior officers, once again presiding over misconduct hearings as they did previously.
Herein we discuss the reasons why Legally Qualified Chairs (LQC’s) were put into place previously and the drawbacks of the move back towards officers of ACPO rank chairing these hearings.
2016 Change to Regulations
LQCs were brought into being on 1 January 2016 (as a result of the Police (Conduct) (Amendment) Regulations 2015 (‘the Regulations’). They are appointed by Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) – usually working together regionally – to serve in a pool of LQCs on which their force PSDs can draw to chair misconduct hearings. These were significant reforms aimed at improving transparency, accountability, and fairness in its disciplinary processes. We explore the reasons behind the adoption of legally qualified chairs in English police disciplinary processes and the benefits they bring to the system.
Independence and Impartiality
One of the primary motivations behind the inclusion of legally qualified chairs in police disciplinary processes is to ensure independence and impartiality. Historically, disciplinary hearings were often conducted by senior police officers, leading to concerns about bias or conflicts of interest. By bringing in legally qualified chairs, who are typically experienced lawyers or retired judges, the process gains an independent perspective. This helps in avoiding potential bias and promotes fairness in the decision-making process.
Police disciplinary matters often involve complex legal issues. Legally qualified chairs possess a deeper understanding of the legal framework, enabling them to interpret and apply the law effectively. This legal expertise is invaluable in ensuring that disciplinary decisions are legally sound and withstand potential legal challenges, reducing the risk of cases being overturned on appeal.
Due Process and Fairness
The introduction of legally qualified chairs helps uphold the principles of due process and fairness.
These chairs are well-versed in the importance of affording all parties their rights, such as the right to a fair hearing, legal representation, and the opportunity to present evidence. Their presence ensures that these rights are respected throughout the disciplinary process, enhancing overall fairness and transparency. Officers have no protection from unfair dismissal in the Employment Tribunal as they are officers of the Crown rather than employees, accordingly it is of paramount importance that the processes are fair and officers have faith in the system.
Accountability and Public Trust
Public trust in law enforcement is vital for a well-functioning police force. When legally qualified chairs oversee disciplinary cases, it sends a strong message to the public that accountability is a priority. This transparency builds trust in the disciplinary process, demonstrating that the police are willing to hold themselves accountable for misconduct. It also fosters a positive relationship between the police force and the communities they serve. In 2017 the Association of Police and Crime Commissions noted in their report analysis that the misconduct system was operating ‘reasonably effectively’ and that there was no statistical evidence that LQC’s were more lenient in
their findings than was the case under the previous (force managed) regime).
Consistency and Standardisation
Legally qualified chairs bring consistency and standardisation to the disciplinary process. Their legal expertise ensures that similar cases are treated uniformly, reducing the risk of arbitrary or inconsistent decisions. This consistency is essential for maintaining the credibility and integrity of the disciplinary system.
The inclusion of legally qualified chairs in English police disciplinary processes in our view represented a significant step toward enhancing fairness, transparency, and accountability within the police force. By providing an impartial, legally informed perspective, these chairs help to ensure due process, legal compliance, and consistency in handling disciplinary matters. Ultimately, their presence serves to uphold the rights of all parties involved while strengthening the public’s trust in the police force’s commitment to accountability and justice.
The removal of the LQC’s and move back towards the previous system is in our view a retrograde step which could lead to significant damage to forces and officers belief in the fairness of the system by which they are governed.