Friday, 17 August 2012

Police and Crime Commissioners No. 4 ~ Revised Guiance for Magistrates

The Senior Presiding Judge's Guidance to magistrates with respect to Police and Crime Commissioner elections has now been rewritten and is reproduced here.  The latest version is expressed to be "interim" and will be reviewed in the light of experience of the new system.  The latest version is a marked improvement on the initial guidance referred to in the earlier posts.


 Introduction 

This guidance is for magistrates who may be standing for election as a Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), are planning to take part in a PCC election campaign, or who have been appointed or are likely to be appointed as a member of a Police and Crime Panel. It is issued in light of the fact that several serving magistrates have already been selected as PCC candidates or appointed as members of Panels. 

Background 

PCCs are required by statute to set local police priorities. They will set the relevant Police Force’s budget and ultimately hold the Chief Constable to account, as well as having the ability to dismiss Chief Constables when necessary. 
The first elections of PCCs will take place on 15 November 2012. One PCC will be elected for each Police Force area in England and Wales outside London. Selection processes by political parties for potential candidates are in the final stages. During the campaign candidates will be likely to set out public positions on a range of crime and policing issues, including strategic policing priorities. 
The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 20111 sets out the requirements for election to PCC roles. The Act disqualifies judges from election as a PCC, by virtue of their disqualification under the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975. Therefore, no judge can hold office as a Police and Crime Commissioner. However, the Act does not prohibit magistrates from standing for election as a PCC.

Judicial Independence 

Magistrates should always take care that their conduct, official or private, does not undermine their institutional or individual independence, or the public appearance of independence. Magistrates must avoid placing themselves in a situation which risks a suggestion of bias or which even in the absence of actual bias, could be perceived by a fair minded and informed observer as giving rise to a real possibility of bias (so-called ‘apparent bias’). 

Holding office as a PCC 

The role of the PCC is intrinsically linked to the performance of the local police force. It will require constant engagement in public debate; Magistrates do not need reminding that a high degree of contention is often inseparable from public discussion of criminal justice policy and practice. In the light of their status as holders of judicial office and the law on ‘apparent’ bias, magistrates must ask themselves whether it is possible to hold office both as a PCC and a magistrate. It is the firm view of the senior judiciary that the two roles are not compatible; and accordingly, that any magistrate elected to be a PCC should resign as a magistrate.

Conduct while standing for PCC or campaigning on behalf of others 

Any Magistrate who is standing for PCC or who is actively engaged in campaigning on behalf of a candidate should take leave of absence and should at all times avoid behaviour that could bring the judiciary into disrepute.
It is not practicable to give detailed guidance on what amounts to ‘active’ campaigning. Magistrates should use their common sense and judgement regarding this. (For example low-level activity, such as delivering leaflets is probably not within the description). Any magistrate should always conduct him or herself in such a way as not to compromise their ability to return to the Bench as an independent and impartial member of the judiciary.
After the election a magistrate who is not elected may return to sitting. 

Police and Crime Panels 

In October 2012, Police and Crime Panels are being introduced in every Force area to scrutinise the actions and decisions of PCCs. Panels will support and challenge the commissioners in the exercise of their functions.
In view of the fact that many magistrates have already been appointed as Panel members, it is considered appropriate for magistrates to become members without having to step down from the magistracy or refrain from sitting. The functions of the panels vary in terms of public exposure; in taking part in any panel activity (whether public or not) magistrate members should be constantly alert to the need to conduct themselves in a manner which is consistent with their duties and responsibilities as magistrates. 

Review of this guidance 

This guidance should be regarded as interim only. After the PCC elections and the formal constitution of Panels, it is intended to review it in the light of experience of the new system. 

Senior Presiding Judge
AUGUST 2012

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