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End use of force fears, Fed tells College and Home Office

Emergency guidance for armed officers is needed to clarify the use of force, the Police Federation has warned.

The Home Office and College of Policing have been urged to end the confusion created by a Supreme Court judgement on how firearms officers reacted during an incident.

The Police Federation said officers should not have to wait for a judgement by the Supreme Court on their legal defence for using their weapons.

The Court of Appeal last year rejected a defence by an officer that he had “an honest belief that he was in imminent danger”.

Instead, it introduced a new legal test of whether the use of force is “necessary, proportionate and reasonable in the circumstances”.

The judgement came in the case of officer W80 which dates back to 2015.

The Metropolitan Police Service had argued the criminal test for self-defence - that the officer only had to have an honest belief that his life was in danger – should be applied.

The court decided the civil test, a belief  that had to be objectively reasonable, should be applied. 

Scott Ingram, Lead Lawyer on Criminal Police Misconduct at Slater and Gordon, explained this legal test has a significant problem.

“Use of force will be judged by objectivity of a right thinking person. I think that’s quite wide-ranging. Is it a member of the public or a police officer? If you gave that knowledge to a member of the public, would they make the same decision?”

He added: “We’re reaching a crucial point and hopefully that point will be resolved soon. We got here because of ambiguity in the wording.”

The result of the judgement is not only increased legal risk for officers. There is now a backlog of post-incident investigations and the time length is up to eight years.

Steve Hartshorn, Firearms and Less Lethal Lead for the Fed said clarity was critical: “We need absolute certainty from the people that lead us - the Home Office, The College of Policing, the NPCC - as to what standard we are all going to be assessed by.”

He warned: We can’t wait for the Supreme Court case. There is a huge backlog of evidence that’s waiting to be tested. That’s not fair to have to sit back and wait for those decisions to be made.”

And he added more officers will be put at risk of being added to the backlog: “If they don’t fully understand the ramification of what they are writing now, it could go horribly wrong in the future.”

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