Theresa May unveils shakeup of police disciplinary system

Police on patrol. Photograph: Rodger Tamblyn/Alamy

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, has announced a shakeup of the internal police disciplinary system, including holding hearings in public and ending payoffs for senior officers found guilty of misconduct, to be introduced before the general election.

The package will also include new protection from reprisals and disciplinary action for police whistleblowers who identify corruption in the ranks or report poor practices.

A more fundamental reform of the police complaints system, including an overhaul of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, is to be postponed until after the election. The reform was planned to include making the complaints system more independent and more focused on resolving complaints locally, and simplifying the appeals system.

May said she was launching a short six-week consultation on the reforms, which could be implemented quickly. “The consultation I am launching today focuses on specific reforms that can be made in the short term that will have a significant impact in making the current system more robust, independent and transparent until such point when more fundamental reforms can be implemented,” she said.

As well as consulting on whether police disciplinary hearings and appeals should be held in public, she was also proposing that they be chaired by someone qualified to ensure that proceedings are legally sound, she said. At present they are conducted by a senior officer of superintendent rank or above.

May said the integrity of the men and women who work in the police service of England and Wales was critical to public trust in the force.

“Real or perceived misconduct or corruption dents that trust and makes policing by consent more difficult. The vast majority of police officers behave appropriately and conscientiously, which makes it even more important to root out misconduct and malpractice and hold those responsible to account,” she said.

Irene Curtis, the president of the Police Superintendents’ Association, supported the changes. “The police service already works very hard to deal effectively with wrongdoing and poor performance, but as this is such a critical area the greater support these measures will provide is very welcome,” she said.

“The overwhelming majority of police officers are highly trustworthy and carry out their roles with exceptional professionalism and real integrity. I hope that a more transparent process will help increase public understanding that the service deals robustly with those who commit serious wrongdoing, and deals fairly with those who make genuine mistakes.”

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