Update 2: Essential Law and Practical Guidance for Police and Crime Commissioners- 5 Essex Court.
Following the end of the Hillsborough Inquest, the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire (Mr David Crompton) was suspended by the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire (Dr Alan Billings) - Announcement by the Commissioner. It is an interesting question as to whether the Police and Crime Commissioner should also carry some responsibility for the way in which the South Yorkshire Police conducted themselves at the inquest. The answer is not entirely clear.
PCCs and Chief Constables:
Elections are in progress in 41 Police areas for Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) with voting on 5th May. This elected office was created by the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. Section 1 states - "There is to be a police and crime commissioner for each police area listed in Schedule 1 to the Police Act 1996 (police areas outside London)." Section 2 states - "Each police force is to have a chief constable."
The Commissioners have important responsibilities and powers including the power to either suspend a Chief Constable or request a Chief Constable to resign. - section 38 of the 2011 Act. (The procedure set out in Schedule 8 Part 2 must be applied). The PCC has to secure the maintenance of the Police Force for the Police area and ensure that it is efficient and effective. The Commissioner holds the Chief Constable to account for (a) the exercise of the functions of the Chief Constable and (b) the functions of persons under the direction and control of the Chief Constable.
The Chief Constable is appointed and holds office in accordance with section 38 and the terms and conditions of the appointment. The Police Force (and its civilian staff) are under the direction and control of the Chief Constable. The Chief Constable must exercise the power of direction and control in such a way as is reasonable to assist the Commissioner to exercise the commissioner's functions.
Whilst those roles are in the legislation, the office of Commissioner is relatively new and the interplay between Commissioners and Chief Constables will inevitably have to be worked out through practical experience. Much will depend on the personalities involved. Quite clearly, a good working relationship of mutual respect is essential.
The responsibility for all operational decisions on policing clearly rests, as it always has, with the Chief Constable. For example, how the police choose to police a public event is a matter for the Chief Constable and the officers who act under his direction. As Sir Thomas Winsor (HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary) pointed out in this speech there was clearly no intention by parliament, when introducing Commissioners to replace the former Police Authorities, to alter or diminish the operational role of the Chief Constable.
Legal actions etc:
When legal action is taken against the police it is usually the Chief Constable who is the defendant. This is only to be expected since most legal action is concerned with matters arising from the operational actions of the police.
At the Hillsborough inquest the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire police was represented by counsel - List of Legal representatives. Certain former South Yorkshire police officers were also represented separately. The involvement of the police at the inquest arose from their operational duties at Hillsborough (15th April 1989) and from their subsequent conduct. The Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire was not a party to the inquest.
The present Chief Constable had nothing to do with the Hillsborough tragedy but he was the face of the force that did and he was responsible for how he conducted his case at the inquest. The Chief Constable issued an apology in 2012:
After the conclusion of the Inquest a further apology was issued:
Such a line of questioning was clearly totally out of kilter with the apologies issued by the Chief Constable.
The case being put by the Chief Constable was, in effect, the case being put for the South Yorkshire Police. Whether the Police and Crime Commissioner had any involvement in how the case was presented is unclear. However one views it, the insincerity of the apologies is plain for all to see.
Hillsborough families are reported as being unhappy that the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner appears to escape any censure over the way in which the South Yorkshire Police conducted the inquest - The Guardian 3rd May - Hillsborough families criticise South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner over inquest tactics
Pete Weatherby QC, representing 22 families whose relatives were killed in the crush on the Leppings Lane terrace at Hillsborough, said it was not enough for Alan Billings to have suspended the chief constable, David Crompton, following the inquest because the commissioner had supported the force’s adversarial strategy during the coroners hearing.
“It appears that the PCC failed in his primary job of holding the force to account, including to ask why the case, which he was funding, was taking so long and costing so much,” Weatherby said. “The families called for David Crompton’s resignation because he ran a case contrary to public admissions he made in 2012. It is difficult to imagine how the PCC failed to notice this, and take appropriate action.”
Considerable time at the inquest was taken with events subsequent to the actual day of the tragedy. It hardly needs stating that much on-going upset could have been avoided had the authorities come clean from the outset about what happened and their involvement.
All too often, a factor in the failure to admit responsibility is fear of either criminal or civil proceedings. The latter can result in considerable sums in damages and these have to be found from public funds. In the face of such liabilities there is a tendency to seek to minimise involvement or to deflect blame rather than squarely face responsibility.
The Guardian 3rd May - Hillsborough families criticise South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner over inquest tactics
Update 6th May - Dr Alan Billings was re-elected in South Yorkshire - BBC Election results