24 September 2023 19:25 Commissioner calls for reform of police accountability system The Commissioner has called for reform of the way police officers are held to account, particularly when they use force or undertake pursuits in the course of their duties.

The Commissioner has called for reform of the way police officers are held to account, particularly when they use force or undertake pursuits in the course of their duties.

Sir Mark Rowley said this area of law and regulation is “long overdue for reform to address a number of imbalances”.

He welcomed the announcement of a review by Home Secretary Suella Braverman in to how the actions of officers are scrutinised.

In an open letter, Sir Mark said the progress being made to deliver change in the Met was “undermined by a system not set up to help officers succeed.”

He called for the policies and practices of the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to be addressed, with a focus on the threshold for investigating police use of force and involvement in pursuits.

As part of the review, the Met would welcome consideration of the following changes to regulations or primary legislation:

  • Amendments to ensure the application of the subjective criminal law test for self-defence in police misconduct, not the objective civil test. One simple test will avoid delay, simplify the process and provide better protection for the public.
  • The introduction of the criminal standard of proof for unlawful killing in inquests and inquiries. This will avoid the confusion caused when different conclusions are reached in criminal and coronial cases.
  • Changes to the threshold at which the IOPC can launch criminal or misconduct investigations. Too often investigations are announced when only a minimal interrogation of the facts has taken place, damaging public confidence, only for further enquiries to establish criminality or wrongdoing either wasn’t borne out at the level initially suggested, or at any level at all. The IOPC should not be able to launch such investigations based only on a mere ‘indication’ of an offence or wrongdoing. It would be more sensible for the threshold to be a ‘reasonable suspicion’ as in most other areas of criminal law.

The Met would also welcome the review considering the following issues of policy and practice in organisations handling cases of police complaints or use of force:

  • Investigate how CPS policy can strengthen the legal protection for officers who use force. Officers are entitled to operate with clarity on the decision-making process, and so there is an associated need to rapidly understand the rationale where charges are brought to enable consideration of the potential impact on the training that is currently in place.
  • The introduction of time limits for the IOPC and CPS in order to reduce the punitive impact on officers of lengthy investigatory and legal processes and ensure the public see rapid resolutions where wrongdoing has occurred.
  • Improving the balance in communications and the release of information following an incident to ensure public confidence in policing is emphasised and matters which may cause community tensions are managed more effectively. A presumption of providing more contextual information about the incidents as part of the initial narrative should be introduced.

In the open letter, Sir Mark writes that any case where someone loses their life is clearly devastating for their family, friends, and wider community.

It is right that they are properly investigated in a way which improves confidence but the Met does not believe the current situation delivers this.

Sir Mark says he is particularly concerned about the position our firearms officers are in, where there are genuinely held concerns by those officers who do an incredibly difficult job in some of the most challenging circumstances

The Met typically responds to around 4,000 armed incidents every year and officers discharge firearms on two or less occasions. This equates to 0.05 per cent of armed operations resulting in shots fired by police officers in London.

Hundreds of weapons are seized and dangerous offenders are brought to justice with extreme care and a professional cation that is world-leading.

Sir Mark added: “There is a concern on the part of firearms officers that even if they stick to the tactics and training they have been given, they will face years of protracted legal proceedings which impact on their personal wellbeing and that of their family. While previous reviews have been announced, they have not delivered change.

“Carrying a firearm is voluntary. We rely on officers who are willing to put themselves at risk on a daily basis to protect the public from dangerous criminals including terrorists. Officers need sufficient legal protection to enable them to do their job and keep the public safe, and the confidence that it will be applied consistently and without fear or favour.”

The changes that the Met has called for will deliver improvements for officers across the country. They have the support of the Chief Executive of the College of Policing and the Chair of the National Police Chief’s Council.

The full open letter is attached.