Police officers could face public disciplinary hearings in "exceptional circumstances" where there are accusations of serious incompetence or neglect, it emerged today.
Under powers held by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), officers accused of serious failings could be compelled to attend tribunals open to victims, relatives and the media.
But a case would have to meet a number of criteria in order to warrant a public hearing, and would be held only if the commission "considers that because of the gravity or other exceptional circumstances it would be in the public interest to do so", an IPCC spokeswoman said.
If relevant issues in a case have already been aired in another public forum, for example in a criminal trial or inquest, that is likely to count against holding a public disciplinary hearing.
The spokeswoman said the hearings were about "public confidence in policing".
She added: "This is not a new power, we have had it since our inception in 2004, but we haven't used it.
"What we've been doing since our inception is consulting with the police and other organisations about what exceptional circumstances would be.
"This is not going to be a routine thing, only the most serious cases."
She cited the case of showjumper Tania Moore, who was shot dead by her former boyfriend, Mark Dyche, in 2004, as one where a public hearing could have been necessary.
Before she died, the 26-year-old had told Derbyshire Police about threats made to her by Dyche.
In October 2006, a number of police officers faced a private misconduct hearing for allegedly failing to take action.
The spokeswoman said: "While there was a murder trial, that was about the murder, it wasn't really focused on the police."
IPCC chairman Nick Hardwick told The Times: "It's an exceptional power. We are not saying as a matter of course the police are going to find themselves in public."