Law Report: Police grievance procedure documents disclosable : Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis v Locker - Employment Appeal Tribunal (Mr Justice Knox, Miss C Holroyd and Mr P Smith), 10 March 1993

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Public interest immunity does not attach to statements generated in the course of the Metropolitan Police grievance procedure and such statements are therefore not immune from disclosure.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal dismissed the commissioner's appeal from an industrial tribunal's decision that documents made in the course of the Metropolitan Police grievance procedure should be dislcosed .

The applicant, Sarah Locker, a police officer since 1980, brought industrial tribunal proceedings complaining of racial and sexual discrimination in relation to her application for a post as a CID officer and of victimisation. She also initiated an internal grievance procedure. An industrial tribunal ordered discovery of statements made during the grievance procedure.

Paul Goulding (Metropolitan Police Solicitor) for the commissioner; Vivienne Gay (Deighton Guedalla) for Mrs Locker.

MR JUSTICE KNOX said that in Neilson v Laugharne (1981) 1 QB 736, documents generated under the complaints procedure under section 49 of the Police Act 1964 were held to be subject to public interest immunity. The test identified there was whether the production of the documents was likely to impede the carrying out of the public statutory purpose for which they were brought into existence. In Makanjoula v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis (1992) 3 All ER 617, it was held that statements used in police disciplinary hearings were the subject of public interest immunity.

The issue was whether the grievance procedure differed in principle from the police disciplinary and complaints procedures. The question was whether the class of documents was by virtue of the nature of the procedure in which they were generated of a type to which class protection attached.

The EAT concluded that the grievance procedure differed from the disciplinary and complaints procedures sufficiently to make the decision in Neilson v Laugharne distinguishable. The principle difference was that complaints and disciplinary procedures were statutory processes intended to punish and deter wrong-doers whereas the grievance procedure was a purely internal procedure. Its purpose was more concerned with promoting non-discriminatory practices and securing remedies for victims of discriminatory practices than with punishing offenders.

The special position of the police resided in the exceptional importance of honesty and propriety in the dealings between the police force and the public; hence the much more stringent codes imposed on the police by Parliament than on other public services. There was, however, no such higher requirement or more stringent code of conduct imposed on the police in matters of sex and racial discrimination.

The whole scheme of the grievance procedure was set up with an eye to industrial tribunal proceedings. There was no error of law in the balance struck by the industrial tribunal between the public interest in the administration of justice in securing that all revelant material was before the tribunal and the public interest in the proper functioning of the police. The commissioner's appeal was dismissed.

Ying Hui Tan, Barrister