It is understood that he is sympathetic towards chief constables' pleas for a less rigorous requirement in the level of proof for an officer to be dismissed. Mr Straw's comments follow an interview in The Independent in which Edward Crew, the Chief Constable of West Midlands police, revealed that he knew of corrupt officers in his force but was powerless to dismiss them because of protective practices.
He said: "There are people working in this force that wouldn't be employed by Sainsbury's ... I have officers in this force who should not be serving police officers. If we were assessing their standards of behaviour to the standard required of other employers, these people would not be working."
The Home Office confirmed yesterday that it was carrying out a review of the procedures. Mr Straw said: "Corrupt officers have no place in a modern and accountable police service. It is crucial that we have a police discipline system which has the confidence and support of the public, and which, at the same time, protects police officers from malicious accusations. I am carefully considering the representations I have had from the Association of Chief Police Officers [Acpo], the Police Federation and other interested parties about changes to police disciplinary procedures."
Mr Straw has also expressed concern at the number of police officers taking early retirement on medical grounds while under investigation.
Police chiefs in England and Wales want the standard of proof that an officer is guilty of corruption or gross incompetence to be made less onerous than "beyond reasonable doubt". Civil cases, industrial tribunals and disciplinary hearings involving police officers in Scotland all use the lesser standard of "balance of probability". Where there is evidence of gross malpractice, they also want the power of instant dismissal.
Paul Whitehouse, Chief Constable of Sussex, and Acpo spokesman, said the proposal was intended to make it easier for senior officers to address all forms of police misbehaviour. "We should be able to deal effectively with the very small number of officers who do not come up to the high standards required."
The independent Police Complaints Authority has backed calls for change. But the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, bitterly condemned the move.
Its vice-chairman, Ian Westwood, accused Acpo of using the election of the new Government to reopen the issue, having previously declared itself satisfied with the regulations. "We are furious. We believe that it is at best opportunistic and at worst bad faith," he said.