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Police Appeals Tribunals Rules 2008

Volume 704: debated on Wednesday 29 October 2008

rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Police Appeals Tribunals Rules 2008.

The noble Lord said: The Police Act 1996, as amended by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, contains power for the Secretary of State to make regulations as to the government, administration and conditions of service of police forces. Today, in an effort to further improve the arrangements for dealing with issues of unsatisfactory performance or misconduct relating to police officers, we are introducing these three statutory instruments.

The statutory instruments establish a new set of procedures governing police disciplinary matters, in response to the recommendations of the Taylor review. The Police (Conduct) Regulations 2008 establish procedures for taking action in respect of misconduct by police officers and special constables. The Police (Performance) Regulations 2008 establish procedures for dealing with issues of unsatisfactory performance and attendance on the part of police officers—apart from senior officers—and special constables. The Police Appeals Tribunals Rules 2008 provide for appeals to a police appeals tribunal against the findings and specific outcomes from both the conduct and performance regulations.

These instruments have been prepared following the passing of primary legislation in the recent Criminal Justice and Immigration Act and enjoy the full support of the Police Advisory Board for England and Wales and the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

It may be helpful to the Committee if I set out the background to the making of these instruments. The Taylor review of police disciplinary arrangements was the review conducted by William Taylor CBE QPM, a former commissioner of the City of London Police and former HM Inspector of Constabulary for Scotland, into the effectiveness of disciplinary arrangements for police officers. The programme board that guided and informed the review consisted of all the main police stakeholders and other invited organisations: the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Police Federation of England and Wales, the Police Superintendents’ Association of England and Wales, the Chief Police Officers’ Staff Association, the National Black Police Association, representatives of Special Constabulary, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, UNISON, Liberty and the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service.

The key recommendations of the Taylor report—there were 19 in total—include the ones that I will highlight today. They are that the police officer disciplinary arrangements are most appropriately determined by Parliament, after extensive consultation; that a new single code should be produced to be a touchstone for individual behaviour and a clear indication of organisational and peer expectations; and that, although regulated, the new procedures should be based on the ACAS code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures. The report also recommended that conduct issues should be separated into two distinct groups—misconduct and gross misconduct—in order to promote proportionate handling, to clarify the available outcomes and to provide a better public understanding of the policing environment; that the police service must manage the disciplinary arrangements dynamically in order to drive through changes to the internal culture of the organisation and to promote acceptance of responsibility at all levels of management; and, importantly, that the procedures for dealing with the unsatisfactory performance of a police officer should be reviewed. The recommendations contained in the report were accepted by the programme board and Ministers and led to the Police Advisory Board for England and Wales being asked to take forward the process of implementing the recommendations.

There are five points that I should like to emphasise about the new regulations. First, the Taylor review found that the current system of dealing with police misconduct can be both slow and disproportionate and gives little or no encouragement to managers to deal swiftly and proportionately with low-level misconduct matters. Disciplinary hearings were seen as being more akin to criminal court hearings and even low-level misconduct matters were decided by a three-person panel of senior police officers. The new system ensures that police managers are given the responsibility and ability to deal with misconduct in a fair and proportionate manner at the local level. Also, timescales are built into the process to ensure timeliness in all misconduct and gross misconduct cases. An independent member, appointed by the police authority, will also sit on gross misconduct panels to bring a public perspective in holding police officers to account.

Secondly, as I said, the Taylor report proposed that there should be a new single code, which should be the touchstone for individual behaviour and a clear indication of organisational and peer expectations. We, together with all stakeholders, have produced the new standards of professional behaviour for police officers, which form part of the conduct regulations. The standards set out clear expectations of the behaviour that the public and colleagues expect of all police officers.

The Taylor review also proposed that the new misconduct procedures should be based on the ACAS principles, which would modernise the system and make it easier for individual officers and the police service generally to learn lessons and improve their service to the public. One of the key points to emerge was the need to shift the emphasis and culture in police misconduct and unsatisfactory performance matters from blame and punishment towards a focus on development and improvement.

Fourthly, the report stressed the importance of carrying out a full assessment of the alleged conduct at an early stage with a view to implementing a proportionate response. The new procedures have incorporated the requirement for this objective assessment to take place at an early stage.

Finally, the report recommended a review of the existing unsatisfactory performance procedures that deal with individual poor performance and attendance of police officers. This recommendation has been implemented through the new performance regulations, which set out the procedures for dealing with the individual poor performance or attendance of police officers.

The Police Appeals Tribunals Rules provide for appeals against the findings and specific outcomes relating to cases considered under the new conduct or performance regulations. Appeals should be dealt with in a timely and proportionate manner; timescales are built into the new rules to ensure that this is the case. The police appeals tribunal chair will have the power to dismiss appeals at an early stage, where there is no real prospect of success and no other compelling reason why the appeal should proceed. The tribunal will have the power to overturn the finding of the original panel that considered the conduct or performance case and to amend the sanction imposed.

In addition to our statutory duty to consult the Police Advisory Board for England and Wales, the new procedures have undergone extensive consultation with all chief constables in England and Wales, police authorities, police staff associations and non-police bodies such as the Commission for Racial Equality, which is of course now the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and the Equal Opportunities Commission. In addition, in accordance with our statutory duty, we have consulted the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council on the draft Police Appeals Tribunals Rules.

The response to the consultation has been broadly supportive of both the policy behind the changes to the misconduct and performance procedures and the detail of the regulations and rules themselves. Stakeholders and other organisations are keen to move to a system that deals with misconduct and poor performance in a more timely and proportionate manner. The Home Office and the Police Advisory Board for England and Wales have considered each of the responses received and made appropriate changes to the policy and the instruments. These changes have been made with the approval of all those organisations represented on the Police Advisory Board for England and Wales.

The Police Advisory Board working party has met 29 times over 33 months to take forward the implementation of the Taylor recommendations. The working party has overseen the various consultation exercises that I have set out. It has fully approved the policy underlying the new procedures. That is what these instruments seek to achieve and I therefore commend them to the Committee. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Police Appeals Tribunals Rules 2008. 27th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Lord Brett.)

I thank the Minister for that comprehensive introduction of the rules and regulations. They were debated independently and separately in the other place, but I am happy that they should be considered together today. They form a composite part of the reform of the disciplinary and performance proceedings for police officers, so there seems no reason to separate them out.

As the Minister said, the regulations arise out of the important Taylor report of 2004, which was undertaken against a background of concern over the overly ponderous proceedings—they were slow, as the Minister said—for dealing with complaints about police officers, either from the public or internally, and/or the poor performance of officers.

We support these regulations. They are sensible, in our view, and sensible ways have been found to turn what were completely adversarial proceedings in front of a panel into a much more measured response, particularly for the less serious matters. Those can be dealt with by an immediate line manager in the first instance, following, as the Minister has said, an assessment of the alleged conduct.

The changes to both the misconduct and the performance procedures are seen as a means of identifying lessons to be learnt from what has happened, both for the individual and for the service, and to provide guidance for the officer’s development and future behavioural performance. I see how guidance can be given on the latter—that is, the future behavioural performance of an individual—but how are the lessons learnt from an individual case to be promoted into one for the service? As I understand it, under Regulation 58 of the conduct regulations, the records of either the misdemeanour or the poor performance will have to be kept by the senior officers of an individual force and, consequently, will presumably be monitored. Will those then be collated by the Home Office or by some other body for further action? Since Parliament has been quite specifically made the keeper of the procedures, is it intended that a report will be brought from time to time to both Houses on the nature of the complaints and their outcomes? Perhaps the Minister could give us a response to that.

My second main question arises from one raised by my honourable friend David Ruffley in the other place, which bears consideration again today. It concerns the training that will be available to the managers who will now have the responsibility for handling discipline or performance issues. In essence, those managers may be only marginally more senior than the person about whom the complaint has been made. In most organisations where this form of handling matters is the norm—by and large it is the norm across the public service—the department of human resources first ensures that the procedures are well understood by all staff and then makes certain that anyone who has to implement them has been formally trained in how to do so, to ensure that they are impartial and that they carry out the procedures in a proper manner. What guidance will be issued to that effect? I appreciate that the code is going to be brought forward, but this is a specific implementation of that code.

I know that since 2004, when the Taylor report was finalised, considerable discussion has taken place within the service to ensure that the final legislation before us today is largely accepted and agreed, allowing for the fact that amendments had to be made to it. We are fortunate in this country to have a police force that is made up of officers who are wholly committed to providing a service of integrity and discipline, who are on duty day in and day out—they are never wholly off duty—and who largely deal with what comes about in a professional manner. We are therefore talking today about a relatively small number who do not live up to those standards. Some may infringe or breach the codes of discipline and some may behave unacceptably. It is to managing these that the regulations relate and we therefore welcome them.

I have not touched on the appeals tribunals so far and I do not intend to do any more than ask the Minister about the appointment of the chair. The chair can make a decision that has a fundamental effect on an appeal from a person whose ways have been found to be in error. Where will the chair be appointed from? Will it be a public appointment? Will they have to have a legal qualification? Presumably, and I hope that the answer to this is yes, they will already have had tribunal experience. When you put into the hands of one person either the decision or the right to turn down the appeal, even when it is glaringly obvious that that is the right thing to do, there is a huge responsibility on that person.

Finally, it has taken nearly four years for these regulations to come before us. I have no complaint about that because clearly they have been the subject of a great deal of consultation, but can the Minister give us the timetable for ensuring that the codes and procedures are introduced into the force so that it is not another four years before they are under way?

I, too, thank the Minister for introducing the instruments and I welcome him to what is probably his first question and answer session on police matters. I begin by declaring an interest as a former chair for eight years of a police authority, whose complaints committee I also chaired. I am also vice-chair of the Association of Police Authorities. About 12 years ago, when I was in the middle of a serious and difficult complaint procedure in my county, I asked for precisely what we have before us today, so I am grateful to all those who have taken part in working through these complex problems and who have come up with what I think is a good way forward.

Police officers want and need a better system; they deserve it. These matters affect them and their families tremendously. When police officers are subject to disciplinary procedure, it is not just the officer who has to go through the terrible difficulties surrounding it. Whether in the end they are found guilty or declared innocent, the process itself affects them. I have seen the dreadful effect that it has had on a number of police officers. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said, fortunately this will apply only to a few police officers; indeed, the gross misconduct procedures will, thankfully, apply to a tiny minority in the totality of policing. A single code for disciplinary arrangements is therefore long overdue.

The degrees of misconduct have been well highlighted and should be recognised, but what is important is, as the noble Baroness said, how those procedures will be implemented. The time limits on the process are crucial. Months can go by. That is one of the most difficult challenges for everyone concerned. Anything that can bring down the time limits, certainly for simple and straightforward matters, is valuable. These issues should be dealt with at the lowest possible level. I think that a basic command unit commander would be absolutely ideal. However, I am happy to note that an independent member will sit on the gross misconduct panel, so we go from one extreme to the other. The presence of an independent person would have been helpful in the difficult case in which I was involved.

Moving from blame and punishment to development and improvement certainly is the way forward and I commend it. The cost of prolonged inquiries is enormous, as I found out to our cost, because the money comes out of the finite police authority budget. I welcome the fact that all the organisations that have a stake—although I hate that word—in policing have done an excellent job in bringing forward these proposals. It cannot have been easy. Having been a member of the PNB and the PAB and knowing how these things operate, I am well aware of the difficulties in trying to sort out the problems.

I have one or two fairly straightforward questions for the Minister. How will the time limits be adhered to? We know that they are down, but how will the regulations be implemented in the same way across all forces? How will that be monitored? Will Parliament be told how the regulations are being used and how often they are used? I echo the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, about training. I was concerned about this. How will training in these new methods be delivered? It will be significant. We must understand how difficult the culture shift will be for the service. All police officers know their disciplinary regulations. Apparently we are moving to a softer touch, but it will not be a soft touch; it will still be a severe test. It will be interesting to see how it will be delivered.

We very much support the Police Appeals Tribunals Rules. They are very sensible; we perfectly accept that. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, suggested, the police are subject to personal restrictions of a type not known certainly to Members of your Lordships’ House or to general members of the public. Police officers are on duty all the time. My late former father-in-law was a chief inspector of police and one of the first things that he told me 30 or 40 years ago was that he was always on duty. He felt that he had a responsibility to the community all the time. Indeed, most police officers feel that. You do not have to have a senior role in the police to feel that you have a responsibility to the community off duty as well as on duty.

Finally, PCSOs were discussed in the other place. They are not subject to the same disciplinary procedures and arrangements but, as we move towards including them more formally in the policing structure, we will have to think about those procedures and arrangements. I do not think that there is an answer today, but although PCSOs are classed as civilians when difficulties arise, they are under the direction and control of the chief constable. They appear to the public as police officers, so perhaps the disciplinary arrangements should be looked at to see how they can apply to PCSOs.

Thankfully, we are not talking about large numbers. The police do an absolutely magnificent job in the main. Those who spoil what the police do by not behaving properly need to be weeded out. All the arrangements that are now being put into place will do that and I commend the instruments.

I am most grateful for the noble Baronesses’ support, for the prescient points that they make and for their correct appreciation of our police service and its probity, efficiency and loyalty. As the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, says, there are a few bad apples in every barrel, but fortunately there are far fewer in this country than in some others.

A number of points were made, which I shall try to deal with in the order in which I took them down. Both noble Baronesses talked about training. When you change the culture of an organisation, it is important that people understand not only why you are changing it but how they are supposed to behave in the new situation. There will be a new national training package, which will be delivered by approved external providers.

Training will be run for trainee managers, panel members and PCSOs. Police authorities are already training independent members. Home Office guidance will be issued and the IPCC is also training staff, so there is clearly a training package that ensures that everyone affected—no doubt, including the organisations representing police officers, PCSOs and others who will have an interest—will have the consultation that they will rightly demand on how their members will be dealt with and how their members as managers will deal with other people.

The question of the chair was raised. As I said, the police appeals tribunals consist of a three-person panel for senior officers and a four-person panel for non-senior officers. The chair is selected through the Judicial Appointments Commission and must have five years’ legal standing—currently, nine or 10 are QCs. The second member is a Chief Inspector of Constabulary or another inspector nominated by him. The third member is the Home Office Permanent Secretary or another Home Office director appointed by him.

For non-senior officers, the chair must be selected through the Judicial Appointments Commission and must have five years’ legal standing, as before. The second member is a member of the force’s police authority. The third member must be a chief officer from the officer’s force or another force, especially if greater independence is thought necessary. The fourth member would be a retired staff association representative. The chair has the casting vote; he would decide on papers and dismiss the case, if he thought that appropriate, without convening the panel. However, one can have some confidence in the quality, experience and qualifications of the chairs. I hope that that answer satisfies the noble Baroness.

The other issue raised was how lessons will be learnt and how best practice will be spread across the service. The professional standards directorate will gather the learning experience and ensure that it is shared through formal guidance where appropriate, but all will learn together—managers, managed and the HR function.

This is revolutionary only in relation to the police force, which is, as I said, a disciplined force. I hope that it will be benign, in the sense of not using the old, much more adversarial system, and more akin to the things that we have already in modern industry, in modern large companies—multinationals and nationals. They understand how to deal with human failing, how to take remedial action and how to assist people to improve performance; only if that fails do they look to other action.

The final question to which I think I can give a supportive answer concerned the operative date, which is 1 December 2008. The final question, on which I will not be able to give the same satisfaction to the noble Baronesses as I hope my other answers have given, is about reporting to Parliament. This is a procedural matter that needs to be managed as a line management issue. It is clearly something that the Home Office will take a keen interest in, so we would clearly want to ensure that the Home Office was up to date on it, but it would be overkill, unless something surprising came out of the cultural change, to require reporting to Parliament.

PCSOs’ discipline arrangements are covered in their contracts of employment. There will no doubt be consultation with associations representing civilian staff within the police service.

Parliament will be kept informed via the Home Office. We intend to keep the operation of the regulations under review and any changes needed will be subject to further regulations being laid before your Lordships’ House and Parliament in general.

I hope that those answers are sufficient to assuage those who asked the questions and I have delight in commending the instruments to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.