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30 April 2015

Public Access to Police Misconduct Hearings from Tomorrow

From tomorrow (Friday 1 May), police forces will be required to make disciplinary hearings open to the public, as part of a Home Office drive backed by the News Media Association for greater police transparency.

Under existing rules, these hearings take place in private, save in exceptional cases where the Independent Police Complaints Commission has ruled that a case should be held in public.

Changes to the rules that come into effect on Friday will mean that the following types of police disciplinary hearings will now take place in public by default:

  • Hearings where an officer/special constable is accused of gross misconduct.
  • Hearings where an officer/special constable is accused of breaching professional standards and is already on a final warning.
  • “Special case hearings”, which are fast-tracked proceedings where a force considers that there are already sufficient evidential and public interest grounds for the officer to leave the force without delay.
  • Appeals hearings brought before the Police Appeals Tribunal.

The NMA strongly backed these reforms when the Home Office consulted on them in November 2014. The NMA stated in its submission: “Policing in a democracy requires public confidence in police adherence to the law… An allegation of police misconduct is not merely a managerial matter which should be shielded from public view, especially if it results in a disciplinary hearing.”

The new rules do, however, allow the chair of the disciplinary panel to exclude anyone they see fit from the hearing. There is also no duty on the police force to notify the public where and when a hearing will take place and who it concerns. This will be at the discretion of the chair of the hearing, who, from 2016, will have to be legally-qualified. Any interested party can write to the chair ahead of the hearing requesting that notification not be given or that it is held in private.

Cases of alleged misconduct that do not amount to gross misconduct, or where the officer is not on a final warning, will continue to be heard in private disciplinary meetings.

The new rules also make it clear that whistleblowing can no longer be treated as professional misconduct. A genuine act of whistleblowing under these rules would be where an officer has disclosed information in the reasonable belief that it would bring to light criminal behaviour, neglect of a statutory duty, a miscarriage of justice, or a breach of health and safety or of environmental protection.