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Crime Bill Could Give Police Chiefs Power To Automatically Dismiss Officers

Police chiefs could be given more powers to dismiss officers who have committed serious offences (Alamy)

4 min read

Police officers could have to hand over their phones if suspected of gross misconduct, and be automatically dismissed if convicted of a serious offence if changes to the government’s Criminal Justice Bill proposed by Labour MP Harriet Harman are accepted.

Former justice minister and solicitor general Harman is hoping to amend the government’s flagship crime bill to tighten up rules for police officers. 

New clauses Harman has already proposed to the legislation include one which would ensure automatic dismissal of a “member of a police force” if they are convinced of a serious criminal offence, and another which would mean automatic dismissal of an officer that fails vetting.

She has also tabled a further amendment which would mean officers have a duty to hand over a personal mobile phone to an “appropriate authority” if there are suspicions of the officer “behaving in a way that could amount to gross misconduct” and there is believed to be relevant information on the phone. 

When MPs return to the Commons after Easter recess later this month, Harman is hoping to bring forward another amendment, that if accepted, would abolish disciplinary panels and put chief constables in charge of dismissals, rather than leave them subject to the current set up which sees decisions made by a three-person panel. 

According to Harman’s proposals, officers would still be able to appeal to a tribunal, as they are able to do now.

The amendments Harman has already put forward have received cross-party support and been signed by colleagues from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. 

Harman told PoliticsHome: “There is now a real mood that people want the police force to be able to have public confidence, and the only way they can have public confidence is if the chief constables absolutely take out of the force people who should have never got into the force in the first place, or who since they have come into the force have behaved in a way that is totally incompatible with being a police officer.” 

She wants to “encourage ministers to not fiddle around in a minor way” but “do a proper job and make sure it’s sorted once and for all”. 

Harman is hoping her amendments will tackle issues that have “been a problem since way before the Sarah Everard case, but which were brought sharply to the fore” by that investigation. 

Everard, 33, was abducted, raped and murdered by then-serving Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens in 2021. 

Lady Elish Angiolini has been leading an inquiry, and last month called for a radical overhaul of police vetting and recruitment procedures. 

Publishing her first report, Angiolini said: “Failures of investigations, failures of recruitment processes, and failures of vetting policy and practice are a depressingly familiar refrain in policing.”

The Criminal Justice Bill legislation is expected back in the Commons in the weeks after the Easter recess for its report stage, where amendments will be discussed and could be voted on. 

The Times reported earlier this week that the government could be facing a rebellion on parts of the bill relating to homelessness. 

The bill contains provisions for police to be able to fine rough sleepers who are considered to be a “nuisance”. The paper reported that dozens of Tory MPs could be prepared to vote against the measures. 

A number of Tory MPs have signed an amendment put forward by Conservative Bob Blackman that would repeal the Vagrancy Act. He told The Times that colleagues are “urging ministers to think again”. 

He said: “A lot of colleagues believe that the bill as it stands is completely unacceptable because it would have the effect of criminalising people who have no choice but to sleep on the streets.” 

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are introducing substantial changes to the misconduct, vetting and performance systems as soon as possible. Part of these reforms include the introduction of a clear route to dismissal for those who fail vetting, which will take effect before the Criminal Justice Bill is enacted.

“We remain committed to holding police officers to the high standards we expect of them, whilst improving intelligence checks on all officers, staff and volunteers. We are also speeding up investigations into officers suspected of committing offences in the line of duty to bring justice to victims more swiftly.”

 

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