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Issue advice on use of force, firearms lead urges Home Office

The Home Office has been urged to step in with advice for firearms officers on use of force.

The Police Federation has urged the Home Office to end the legal limbo for armed response officers over guidance on the use of force.

Its firearms lead said current ambiguity created by the judgement in the case of officer W80 needs to end - and claimed creation of interim guidance has been stalled by the College of Policing.

Problems began in October when the Court of Appeal ruled in October 2020 that an honestly held belief that the officer or public were in danger was not enough to justify the use of force in this case.

It followed an IPCC (predecessor to the IOPC) review of the case which found a case to answer to gross misconduct. That decision was challenged by the Metropolitan Police and the Police Federation.

Following the judgement of the Court of Appeal, the new legal expectation is that an objective test, as opposed to the subjective test, must be used when considering whether use of force amounts to a breach of the Standards of Professional Behaviour and ultimately whether a case ought to be referred to disciplinary proceedings. 

The National Police Chiefs’ Council have written to all forces to update them and the Home Office concluded that no changes in the rules are required.

But the Police Federation has argued this isn’t enough and that armed officers should be updated with guidance from the College of Policing on how they should interpret the rules.

It has also taken the case to the Supreme Court and the appeal is due to be heard in October.

The Fed believes firearms officers have an increased risk of facing disciplinary proceedings and that two years’ on from the Court of Appeal decision is long enough for guidance to have been shared.

Steve Hartshorn, the Fed’s National Board member and Firearms lead, said the COVID-19 lockdown, the Everard case and other reputational issues have put pressure on College resources.

He told Police Oracle: “There seems to be a lack of courage for the College to say ‘we can’t do this, let’s go to the Home Office’. We don’t expect them to know everything, no-one can. With a team approach, they could have come up with something by now.”

Mr Hartshorn added the judgement also impacts on senior officers – including Chief Constables.

“If a job is authorised and use of force undertaken, they’re brought into this group as well,” he said.

In a statement, the Home Office said: “We are aware that an application to appeal has been made to the Supreme Court and therefore it would be inappropriate for the Home Office to comment further at this time.”

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