Police wrong-doers to face threat of instant dismissal: Clarke proposes new disciplinary powers for chief constables

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The Independent Online
NEW POWERS to allow chief constables to dismiss bad officers instantly and the abolition of the police quasi-judicial disciplinary system were proposed yesterday by Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary.

Mr Clarke, in his second major move on police reforms in two weeks, issued a discussion paper, saying he wanted the century-old 'lengthy and legalistic' discipline system to be replaced by a simpler two-tier procedure based on 'personnel management' processes operating elsewhere in the public services.

The proposals were rejected by Alan Eastwood, chairman of the Police Federation; he said that if they were implemented, the police would demand the right to form a trade union, suggesting that would include the right to strike.

The paper follows concern that the present system lacks public confidence, largely because it adopts the 'beyond reasonable doubt' standard of proof. This is considered too legalistic for minor matters and allows more serious cases to be unpunished because of the high standard of proof.

Mr Clarke said: 'What is needed is a new system which is scrupulously fair, produces a decision in a reasonable time and has regard to the seriousness of the allegation.'

Minor matters and questions of inefficiency - such as bad timekeeping - would be dealt with under informal 'unsatisfactory performance' procedures consisting of a four-stage process of hearings designed to improve the officer's conduct; dismissal is the final sanction. The officer would not be allowed legal representation and appeal would be to an industrial tribunal.

Serious cases would be dealt with as 'misconduct'. Officers would not be allowed lawyers - a right presently available in cases where dismissal is possible - but their case could be given by 'a friend'. Crucially, hearings would be judged by the standard of proof 'where. . .any reasonable person would think the truth most likely to lie' and not 'beyond reasonable doubt'.

'Adverse implications' could be drawn from officers who exercised their right to silence. Public servants in other situations were not allowed to 'shelter behind' the possibility of self-incrimination, he said.

'In most walks of life it would be regarded as extraordinary for an employee to be able to refuse to give an explanation to the line manager in response to a serious allegation.' Appeal against punishments, ranging from dismissal to transfer - would be to an industrial tribunal and no longer to the Home Secretary.

Examples of when the new power of instant dismissal could be used included an officer who refused to start a shift 15 minutes early when there was an emergency or an officer caught in a criminal act without any possible defence.

Sir Leonard Peach, chairman of the Police Complaints Authority, gave a warm welcome to the paper, which suggests that the name of the authority could be changed to prevent confusion in the public mind that it is a police organisation.

Dr Ian McKenzie, of Exeter University's Centre for Police and Judicial Studies and a former Metropolitan Police superintendent, said his only concern was at the ending of the right to silence in discipline matters.

'I am sure it will be hard-fought by the federation, but the proposals will have a beneficial effect and increase public confidence. Current procedures are based on a Victorian edifice and have been brought into disrepute,' he said.

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