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Indemnity for Police Area Returning Officers and Local Returning Officers: 2021 Police and Crime

Volume 687: debated on Thursday 14 January 2021

It is necessary for the Cabinet Office to indemnify police area returning officers (PAROs) and local returning officers (LROs) in England and Wales against uninsured claims that arise out of the conduct of their duties in police and crime commissioner (PCC) elections. This is because for the purposes of PCC elections, PAROs and LROs are statutorily independent officers and are separate from both central and local government. As such, they are personally liable for the conduct of the PCC elections. They are therefore potentially exposed to a variety of legal risks and challenges. Existing insurance that covers PAROs and LROs in discharging their statutory duties as returning officers at local elections will not, in most cases, cover them at the PCC election.

In the light of this, the Cabinet Office proposes to continue to indemnify PAROs and LROs at the forthcoming PCC elections on 6 May 2021, and any subsequent by-elections taking place before the next scheduled elections on 1 May 2024, against claims that arise out of the conduct of their duties where existing insurance cover does not apply. Where a PARO or LRO already holds insurance which covers liabilities incurred at the PCC election, they will be required to claim under that insurance (or to seek to claim under it) before making a claim against this indemnity. Insurance for specific elections has historically provided extremely poor value for money, with claims made under such cover being smaller than the cost of the insurance premium. An indemnity therefore provides better value for money and this approach has been taken for elections since 2009.

On this basis, I have today laid a minute setting out the Cabinet Office’s intention to extend the current arrangements which indemnify PAROs and LROs against claims that arise out of the conduct of their duties in relation to the PCC elections.

In Wales, PAROs and LROs will be conducting Welsh parliamentary elections in combination with PCC elections on 6 May 2021. The Welsh Government will provide their own indemnity to returning officers working on the Welsh parliamentary polls. Where a claim is made against the actions or conduct of a returning officer in relation to both Welsh parliamentary and PCC elections, any losses, liability, damages, costs, claims, proceedings or expenses incurred in relation to the combined polls will be apportioned equally, so far as that is reasonable.

The indemnity will provide PAROs and LROs with cover for:

Amounts that exceed the upper limits on any existing insurance policies held by them, or local authorities on their behalf, that will provide coverage;

Any reasonable costs resulting from their liabilities to the public, as an employer or in their professional role.

The indemnity will only apply so far as any charges are not otherwise recoverable under the charges provisions contained in section 55 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, and is subject to exclusions set out in the departmental minute. The indemnity is otherwise unlimited in terms of the maximum amount covered per claim.

We will also provide a certificate confirming that we will bear any employee liabilities of the PARO or LRO which would otherwise be covered by insurance procured under the Employers’ Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969.

It is normal practice, when a Government Department proposes to undertake a contingent liability in excess of £300,000 for which there is no specific statutory authority, for the Minister concerned to present a departmental minute to Parliament giving particulars of the liability created and explaining the circumstances; and to refrain from incurring the liability until 14 parliamentary sitting days after the issue of the minute, except in cases of special urgency. The Treasury has approved the proposal in principle.