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Hampshire PCC calls for more open misconduct hearings

PCC Donna Jones spoke with Police Oracle about how she is ensuring misconduct hearings within her force are both fair and transparent.

The contentious decision on whether to hold misconduct hearings in public or private is normally taken by the panel's independent chair. But this is not without a degree of legal risk.   

Hampshire Constabulary along with Thames Valley, Surrey and Sussex, provide their legally qualified chairs (LQCs) with indemnity in order to protect them from legal issues arising from decisions they have made during a misconduct hearing.

In 2018, two years after the move to have legally qualified chairs head misconduct hearings as opposed to Chief Constables, concerns were raised over the indemnity wording in the agreements with PCCs. It arose from the potential of a claim for damages against a LQC and other independent panel members regarding an Equality Act claim.

This week, PCC Donna Jones told Police Oracle: “Our panel sits across Suffolk police, Thames Valley police, Hampshire Constabulary and Surrey police and we made a decision a long time ago that we would take that risk for our LQCs, so if they were ever sued, we would cover that risk to them.

“Other parts of the country have not done that, and that's why other legally qualified chairs are of course, feeling much more vulnerable about this potential that they could be sued for any decision that they are making.

“It’s being discussed and the Home Office have considered it as well.”

Certain PCCs including Humberside have agreed wording that has been put forward by the APCC and the Home Office for an interim period while a longer term solution is being worked on.

 A legislative solution for indemnity has not yet been reached.  

PCC Jones was elected in May of last year. She was a Magistrate for 15 years and served as leader of Portsmouth City Council between 2014-2018 where she worked closely with Hampshire Constabulary.

In her role as PCC, she recently reviewed the way misconduct hearings take place and has written to her local LQC panel urging them to ensure they are holding hearings in public as a default, unless it is essential not to.

“Even if something is deemed to be required to be held in closed session, [there should be] a summary, an executive summary or a full summary, published at the end of the hearing, particularly where the chief constable’s recommendation for dismissal based on some form of misconduct or gross misconduct is upheld," she told Police Oracle.

“[This review] was really me raising this issue nationally, reminding LQC chairs that the starting point should always be [to hold things publicly], unless there's good reason not to, and just to say that I'm keeping an eye on it, both my own patch and across the country on behalf of victims of crime and those that may be given a disservice by a police officer.”

PCC Jones attributes the rise in complaints to a number of high profile cases, meaning more people are aware of the complaints procedure.

“I think we can expect to see an increase in some of in complaints going forward, many of which will not be upheld, and [officers] will be deemed to have done absolutely nothing wrong,” she said.

“Following a number of incidents across the UK over the last 18 months involving police forces, in particular, the Metropolitan Police, trust and confidence in policing has never been as fragile as it is right now.

“Ensuring that when things do go wrong, they're dealt with quickly, and they are dealt with fairly for both the police officer who has an allegation against them, and also for any potential victims or vulnerable people involved, is essential.

“It is, however, acknowledged that there are some circumstances where publicising or holding hearings in public could bring further harm or distress to those involved in the hearing itself, to vulnerable victims.

“The default position should always be to hear cases in public and to publicise the officer's name where they are dismissed from a police force.”

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