Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill - Brief first look

In July 2010 the Home Secretary issued a consultation "Policing in the 21st century: Reconnecting Policing and People" - Home Office website.  A Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill has now been introduced into Parliament.  The full Bill may be read here and Explanatory notes here.  The Bill divides into 5 parts with 16 Schedules.  Part 1 deals with Police reform.  It will abolish Police Authorities (excluding City of London) and replace them with directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners for each police force outside London, and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime for the Metropolitan Police.

Police and Crime Commissioners will be responsible for holding the chief constable of their police force to account for the full range of their responsibilities. The chief constable will retain responsibility for the direction and control of the police force. Part 1 also contains provisions for establishing Police and Crime Panels for each police area. The role of the Police and Crime Panel will be to advise and scrutinise the work of the Police and Crime Commissioner.

It is a very moot point whether this reform is necessary and whether reform of the Police Authorities might have been more appropriate.  According to their consultation, the government sees the Police as "disconnected from the public they serve."  As for cost, The Guardian 1st December suggests that it will cost £130 m in the first year to set up the new Police and Crime Commissioners. After that, there will be the on-going costs of periodic elections not to mention the staff they are likely to require.  The Guardian quotes Home secretary Theresa May as saying that the Commissioners will cost no more than the Police Authorities.

Part 2 amends the Licensing Act 2003. Licensing authorities, the Police and Local Authorities will have responsibility for controlling noise nuisance and "communities" will have a greater say in licensing decisions.

Part 3 is aimed at creating a new legal regime for controlling Parliament Square, London and the surrounding area.  Sections 132 - 138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 will be repealed.  The effect of that will be that Public Order Act 1986 s.14 will then apply.  The Bill will require considerable scrutiny here.  It is not unknown for a more restrictive regime to be brought in under the guise of reform.  [See Brian Haw's website]. 

Part 4 deals with the question of issuing arrest warrants on the application of a private prosecutor in relation to certain offences.  The actual offences are listed in Clause 151 which will, once enacted, insert sections into the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980.  This matter arose when certain Palestinians sought a warrant for the arrest of former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni - see BBC 15th December 2009.  The consent of the DPP will be required before a warrant can be issued.

Part 4 also contains some provisions relating to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and also powers of seizure under certain local government byelaws.

Part 5 deals with matters such as commencement.  The Act will mainly extend to England and Wales only though some provisions will also extend to Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Media comment:  The Telegraph 1st December "Police Commissioners could get their own political advisers" .... "Parliament Square to be cleared for Royal wedding" .... "Top prosecutor to approve arrest of foreign officials


  1. I am, tentatively, in favour of elected police commissioners to replace non elected police authorities. As police forces have grown larger in size, and fewer in number, the degree of accountability to the populations they serve has diminished to zero. When forces were smaller and coterminus with counties or county boroughs the local watch committees exercised democratic oversight and expressed democratic priorities. Who knows who the members of the current police authorities are? How can these unknowns exercise any kind of oversight or policy formation? How can they have a feel for what the public wants? At least commissioners will have a mandate. My tentativeness is solely dependent upon seeing the detail of what is suggested.

  2. When is this bill likely to be made into law?