Met chief calls for lawsuit costs reform

Britain's most senior police officer has appealed to Home Secretary Theresa May to help curb the number of lawsuits against his force, it emerged today.

In a letter obtained by The Guardian, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson complained about the cost and bureaucracy of civil cases brought by members of the public and of employment tribunals initiated by staff.

He also urged the introduction of a fee for requests for documents and data under the Freedom of Information Act, which is supposed to increase the transparency of public bodies.

The letter, apparently written and sent in June, little more than a month after Ms May took over at the Home Office, was marked "confidential".

In it, Sir Paul said that the legal costs of civil actions, which he said often concerned "technical" breaches rather than issues of wide public concern, were a drain on police resources.

"We believe there needs to be a radical shakeup of the system; currently for every pound paid out in compensation, up to £10 or sometimes more has to be paid out in legal costs to the claimants' lawyers," he said.

"One of the key aspects is that the average settlements are well under £10,000 and most under £5,000, in other words these are not major areas of police misconduct with long-lasting consequences but often technical breaches."

On employment tribunals, he wrote that staff were able to lodge "speculative" claims and then drop them after "considerable" resources have already been spent responding.

"We propose that a fee for issuing claims could be introduced and the grounds upon which costs can be made widened to meet these concerns," he said.

Turning to the Freedom of Information Act, the Commissioner encouraged the Home Secretary to "consider introducing a fee (as there is for Data Protection Act requests) to bring it into line with the Data Protection Act".

Sir Paul's intervention drew criticism from civil liberties campaigners.

James Welch, legal director of the civil rights group Liberty, told The Guardian: "The ability to challenge police misconduct in court is a vital constitutional safeguard against abuse of power.

"Under current rules, if you lose a case in the civil courts you can expect to be ordered to pay your successful opponent's legal costs. A service bound to uphold the rule of law should not attempt to carve out an exception for itself."

Paul McKeever, chief of the Police Federation of England and Wales which represents rank-and-file officers, challenged the idea that "speculative claims" were being lodged with employment tribunals.

"Going to an employment tribunal is the last resort people take after being frustrated by the system. Nobody wants to go to an employment tribunal - it's a horrible process to go through," he said.

The Campaign for Freedom of Information accused Sir Paul of trying to discourage requests for information to his force.

"The effect would be to shield the police from many of the requests they get," chairman Maurice Frankel said.

Scotland Yard was unavailable for comment, but a Home Office spokesman said: "The Home Secretary enjoys a good relationship with Sir Paul Stephenson.

"It is usual for him to write to her with his opinions and the Home Secretary always considers them carefully."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior IT Support / Projects Engineer

£26000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Bench Joiner & Wood Machinist

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This busy local Joinery company...

Recruitment Genius: Financial Adviser

£20000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you recently QCA Level 4 qu...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Director - Product Management

£75000 - £85000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the largest and fastes...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence