Sunday, 10 October 2010

Why should the Police be accountable --- even to the law?

Why should the Police be accountable, even to the law?  Here is a suggestion  from the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police that the rules should change so that is made much harder to take legal action against the Police.  Given the undoubted influence that Senior Police Officers and ACPO have over government, are we now entering a time in which government will use their power to amend the law so that State Authorities are able to act against the ordinary citizen without without any fear of the consequences?  I hope not.  READ - The Guardian 10th October 2010.  Maybe, certain senior Police Officers are getting too big for their boots?  One may wonder just - (a) what the Home Secretary's immediate response will be and (b) what will happen "longer term".  Will government quietly accede to the Commissioner's request?

Addendum 11th October:  "Sir Paul Stephenson must not tolerate police abuse of power" - The Guardian, Fiona Murphy.  "The Cost of Poor Policing" - Jules Carey, Guardian 11th October.

Addendum 15th October:  Read the Solicitor's Journal regarding the story of barrister Colin Challenger who was arrested and handcuffed at the High Court.


  1. I have not read the Commissioner's remarks in full. It is of course right that the police should be held to account, in the first instance by the Police Authority and where appropriate by the Home Secretary on behalf of parliament, by parliament itself and again, where appropriate through the court system. However, I have been involved in a wide range of cases and claims where the use of the court system is manifestly absurd. Individuals suing because the police did not prevent a specific crime occurring (suing because I was mugged on the way from the nightclub to the car park), where someone drunk fell down some steps in a police station and where an officer was abusive (allegedly). In cases of wrongful and unlawful arrest, criminal activity by an officer et, it os of course right that the police is answerable. I have dealt with pre-court claims for damage inside a crack-house which the police are alleged to have caused. I have dealt with a motorist who claimed she had an accident after being overtaken by a police car with its siren on which frightened her. Etc etc. To avoid these cases, Paul Stevenson is right - too much energy and associated cost goes on such trivia and not enough on those which matter.

  2. Rex - I agree that some claims ought never to have been brought. However, there are adequate mechanisms for weeding those out and it must be the judiciary which are the gate keepers.

    The "mind set" of Sir Paul Stephenson is worrying. I have added a link by way of an addendum to the post. It urges the Police to put their own house in order.

  3. An interesting example of an action against the Police may be read here. The alleged failure by the Police in this case is replicated all over the country.

  4. It sounds like he is being a little far-reaching in his suggestions but the principle is essentially correct. The police are the most scrutinised public body in the UK. It is disgraceful how if a complainant is "offended" then an officer is subject to stringent and potentially stressful investigation but that should the complaint turn out to be pure fabrication there is no recourse. There should of course be a system in place to challenge police action but you are wrong in one matter I am afraid - there are NOT adequate mechanisms for weeding out the pure rubbish which passes as a claim.

    Claims of police misconduct should be kept to incidents involving serious issues - not because modern society cannot on the whole accept being told what to do on occasion or cope with the immense problem of police being allowed to do things that they might be subject to prosecution for (travelling above posted speed limits/talking on Airwave sets whilst driving/dragging drunks away from licensed premises to prevent trouble etc etc).

  5. Aaron, just out of interest how do you suppose that we would decide which allegations should be treated seriously and which ones binned? Claims such as "the police failed to prevent a crime" have long since been held to be bad as the police had no specific duty of care. If the police had specific intelligence that Mr X was to be the victim of a robbery and did nothing about it then it might be that Mr X would have a claim against the police. But that is pretty unusual.

    What you really seem to be asking for is that members of the public only report/take action in appropriate cases. That's fine, but it's like asking people to only call an ambulance when there is an emergency - some people are just incapable of correctly identifying some situations.

    Police officers represent their employer the same way as anybody else. If a PC walked up to me in the street and shouted "bastard" in my face for no reason then I don't see why he shouldn't be subject to disciplinary action - or even prosecution under the Public Order Act. If a police officer chases, catches and restrains a violent and resisting prisoner and during the course of that restraint called the prisoner a "bastard" then I don't see a problem.

    Police officers seem to have no problem with arresting people under the Public Order Act for swearing, but then complain when members of the public make official complaints if they feel an officer has been rude or aggressive toward them.

    We have a system where anybody can bring an action before the courts. However, the person bringing the action can also be made the subject of a costs order if they lose their case (or even lose the automatic right to bring a case if they are persistent wasters of the courts time). I think that is about the best filter we can realistically have for weeding out pointless cases.