Category Archives: kent police authority

Police WILL be under democratic control

PoliceFor over forty years the police have too often evaded democratic oversight of their operations by pointing to a 1968 judgment by Lord Denning (R v Metropolitan Police Commissioner, ex parte Blackburn [1968] 1 All ER 763)

On Monday the policing minister, the excellent Nick Herbert, killed off the idea that Denning’s judgment exempts the police from democratic control – which must surely be the corollary of tax financing of public services. He stated clearly for the record that the ambit of operational independence, i.e. where the police answer only to the law (and hence judges) and not to political authority, was limited “to specific operational matters and the decisions the police have to make as constables in arresting somebody and in pursuing investigations”.

The common law will now develop in a new context. Judgments which followed Denning, e.g. stating a police authority “is subject to the overall direction of the Secretary of State” or that it is for Chief Constables “to decide how available resources should be deployed”, will have to be reconsidered.

This is because Parliament has spoken. Statutory Instruments in theory represent the will of Parliament. The reality is that they are written by civil servants, signed by a minister and, in the vast majority of cases, go through on the nod without being debated in Parliament.

I did not feel that this was an acceptable way to deal with the Policing Protocol Order, which sets out the division of powers between Chief Constables and the Police and Crime Commissioners who will be elected in November. Parliament should agree this and not just representatives of the Association of Chief Police Officers and the current unelected police authorities.

That is why, with the support of the majority of the Home Affairs Committee and other MPs such as Douglas Carswell and David Hanson, I ‘prayed against’ the Order and obtained Monday’s debate. Judges will now be able to resolve disputes between elected Commissioners and Chief Constables, not on the basis of what Lord Denning thought in 1968, but according to the intentions of Parliament in 2011 as set out in the Policing Protocol Order 2011 and the Hansard record of Monday’s debate.

Extracts from debate

Keith Vaz: “I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood, who has taken a strong interest in the protocol and was extremely active on the Home Affairs Committee in ensuring that we put a recommendation on it into our report. As r h and hon. Members know, he is due to become a father for the first time in early March, but I would say that the protocol is probably his first child. He was determined that we not only put it in the memorandum, but had a debate, and Members on both sides of the Home Affairs Committee supported him wholeheartedly. He believed, as do we all, that proper parliamentary scrutiny of important proposal is important. …”

Mark Reckless: “It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester East, the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. He has referred kindly to the protocol as my baby or my first child, but I should say, at the very least, that the Minister – I am not sure whether this is the right phrase – shares its parentage, as well as that of the overall policy …

… The protocol is a clear and significant document. I should like to put on record my appreciation of all sides of the tripartite, particularly the police. Adrian Lee, the chief constable of Northamptonshire, speaking for the Association of Chief Police Officers, has gone a long way and, in some areas, given significant ground; Tim Godwin and the Metropolitan Police Service have also moved a long way. Given the traditional position of the chief constable having direction and control, it is significant, as noted in paragraph 8.1 of the explanatory memorandum, that the MPS “Specifically welcomed the clear statement that the elected local policing body  would set the strategic direction and objectives of the force.””

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): “They [the police] answer to police authorities now, but they will answer to directly elected police and crime commissioners. It is not the intention in the legislation or the protocol to interfere with such operational independence, but we did not think that it would be wise to try and define it. We sought to give clarity in an accessible form to what the legislation says, and have set it out in the protocol.

Mark Reckless: It is welcome that the protocol develops that clarity. I think we all agree that it is not sensible to try to define operational independence in law and that chief constables should have the day-to-day control of their forces, but does the Minister accept that there has been some uncertainty about police authorities and the issues they deal with, and about the remarks made by judges in some cases? I gave an example in relation to oversight by central Government. The protocol and the will of Parliament as expressed in the agreement between the parties we have witnessed today set a new context in which the common law will evolve.

Nick Herbert: I agree, and I think that my hon. Friend will be reassured by my later comments about the judgment he mentioned … Where an accommodation has to be reached between the elected police and crime commissioner and the chief constable [e.g. over whether to use Tasers], the idea that the chief constable could make such decisions regardless of the views of the elected police and crime commissioner is, in my view, erroneous. I am happy to make that clear. I can see that my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood is concerned so I will give way to him briefly.

Mark Reckless: Were the police and crime commissioner not to give a budget for Tasers, the question of the chief constable’s being able to deploy would not even arise, because the budget is a matter for the PCC.

Nick Herbert: My hon. Friend must be correct when it comes to the new deployment of such a weapon; the issue is whether chief constables could go on deploying existing Tasers. However, I have stated that the Government’s view, which is that while a strict interpretation may be that is an operational matter for the chief constable alone to determine – that would be for the courts to decide – realistically, a chief constable would not be able to pursue such an operational decision in the absence of support from an elected police and crime commissioner. I hope that that also helps to answer the points raised by the Chair of the Select Committee.

I hope those comments also address the concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood, who described Lord Denning’s famous judgment in R. v. Metropolitan Police Commissioner, ex parte Blackburn, in 1968, as “exorbitant”. Lord Denning said that the police were accountable only to the law, but it is now widely agreed, I think, that that is a narrow and legalistic interpretation of police accountability. The police must now answer to someone for the kind of policing they practise; somebody must set the budget for them and set the plan, and the people must have a voice. The idea that the police answer only to the law in the exercise of their functions is surely relevant only in relation to specific operational matters and the decisions the police have to make as constables in arresting somebody and in pursuing investigations, where it is widely agreed and accepted by all sides that there should be no political interference.”

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Mark Reckless welcomes the introduction of directly-elected Commissioners to help fight crime in Rochester and Strood

Mark Reckless MP for Rochester and Strood welcomes the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act which received Royal Assent on 15 September 2011.

The Act will introduce directly-elected Police and Crime Commissioners which will make police forces truly accountable to their communities by:

  • representing all those who live and work in their area identifying their needs
  • setting priorities that meet those needs by agreeing a strategic plan for the force
  • holding the Chief Constable to account
  • agreeing the force budget; and
  • appointing – and, where necessary, removing – the Chief Constable.

The act also includes:

  • measures to give communities greater say over alcohol licensing to tackle problem premises;
  • stronger local influence on licensing allowing everyone to comment on decisions;
  • powers to allow councils to introduce a late-night levy to charge for licences to pay for extra policing; and
  • immediate powers to temporarily ban the latest so-called legal highs.

Commenting Mark Reckless said:

‘A Police and Crime Commissioner will give a major boost to Kent Police in their fight against crime and anti-social behaviour. The Commissioner will help restore the link between our force and the communities it serves, ensuring that local concerns are properly addressed.

‘I look forward to the election of our first Commissioner for Kent and Medway in November of next year. They will help drive up efficiency, cut waste and bureaucracy, and deliver better value for money for taxpayers in Rochester and Strood.

‘With changes to alcohol licensing it will be easier to clamp down on problem premises, making our high streets safer. And powers to ban new legal highs will protect young people.’

Mark Reckless discusses PCSOs in Medway

Police Cuts and Sharp Practice Among Lib Dem Peers

Mark Reckless MP was interviewed by BBC Radio Kent this morning. He defended police cuts but suggested that officer and staff reductions in Kent could be rather less than the 500 and 1,000 planned, given that government grant was more generous than expected and there will be reforms to police terms and conditions.

Turkeys Vote On Christmas

Mark also identified possible sharp practice by some Lib Dem Peers amid concerns at the vice-chair of the Association of Police Authorities taking over business. It even appears that some ex-Police Authority representatives may have wrongly suggested to colleagues that their particular position was official party policy before last night’s vote on elected police commissioners.

Peers with reasonable concerns will now have to decide whether to work sensibly to improve the Bill and the role of the oversight Panel, or die in a ditch and see all their amendments overturned by the Commons.

Mark Reckless: Tackling Crime Through Community Activism

Mark Reckless MP welcomed the report of Baroness Newlove, the Government’s Champion for Active Safer Communities, which sets out a radical new approach to community activism. As she suggests, there needs to be a change of culture so neighbourhoods no longer view crime, anti-social behaviour and disorder as a problem for someone else to solve. Services and local agencies need to go beyond just asking communities what their problems are – they must see local communities as equal partners in tackling issues.

The Government has a clear plan to cut crime through reforming the police and the criminal justice system. They have already abolished all the complex targets that Labour imposed from Whitehall and set the police just one goal: to cut crime.

Communities also have an important role to play in the fight against crime. The www.police.uk website, launched in February, gives local people real information in map form about exactly what crime is happening in their areas and allows them to hold the police to account for their work.

Further reforms include:

• Introducing, from next May, directly-elected Police and Crime Commissioners to restore the link between the police and their communities.
• Driving out bureaucracy that wastes police time so that officers can be crime-fighters not form-writers.
• Reforming and strengthening the powers to tackle anti-social behaviour.

Mark Reckless MP said:

‘I fully support this commitment from Government and Baroness Newlove to harness the great energy of communities across Medway in the fight against crime.

‘Crime and anti-social behaviour are not someone else’s problem but a real issue that we all must work together to address. I want to see streets right across Medway reclaimed by the people who live here’.

Mark Reckless MP: At Last, Democracy Is Coming To Policing

Police

Originally posted on ConservativeHome

Today and tomorrow the House of Commons will put its finishing touches to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill.  It is a long title for one key reform, putting a directly elected individual “in charge” – as the Home Secretary put it on Monday – of each police force. That reform will have huge ramifications as power in policing shifts from the Chief Constable to the elected Commissioner.

Unsurprisingly, the Chief Constables don’t much like that. However, unlike police authorities, which have spent public money fighting their own abolition, most Chief Constables, if not necessarily their Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), accept very professionally that it is for elected politicians to set policy under which they operate.

Police authorities are generally considered to have been the weakest of the ‘tripartite’ pillars of police governance, the others being the Home Office and the Chief Constable.  Our plan to deal with that, which I passed to Douglas Carswell to develop further when he replaced me at the Conservative Policy Unit in 2004, was to transfer the police authority powers to people who are elected, so as to reinforce those powers with a democratic mandate.

David Cameron wrote that plan into our manifesto in 2005 and has evangelised it ever since, so much so that he appointed the hugely impressive Nick Herbert as Police Minister, having seen him make the case for democratic control of policing when leading the thknk-tank Reform. The Prime Minister then promised in July 2006 that “We will enshrine operational independence in legislation”. 

It is unfortunate that some concessions have since been made to ACPO, but any apparent increase in Chief Constables’ powers will surely prove illusory once they face Commissioners empowered with a democratic mandate. If this bill fails to give the elected Commissioners the power they need to deliver what the public wants, then they will come back and demand that power, and Parliament will give them the power, as we have for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.

I will nonetheless make the case today and tomorrow for us to get it right first time, to give the elected commissioners the powers they need now, and to give a clear steer to the courts that, in the Home Secretary’s words, the elected commissioners must be “in charge”. Chief Constables must of course make operational decisions regarding investigations and arrests independently of politicians, but it is for the elected commissioners to determine policy and set priorities.

Moreover, if panels of elected councillors are to scrutinise elected commissioners and potentially second-guess their budgets, then we shouldn’t need the Secretary of State to third-guess that process. It may make sense to give the Secretary of State a reserve power to require a referendum if a local council wants a really excessive council tax increase. For policing, that power would surely better be exercised in extremis by the Panel which will scrutinise the police budget and represent the local councils and electorate which would pay for a referendum. 

David Cameron, Theresa May and Nick Herbert are truly driving home the Direct Democracy agenda with the police. They deserve our support.

Mark Reckless MP: Taking action to support victims of anti-social behaviour

PoliceMark Reckless said that for far too long anti-social behaviour has created havoc in communities across Rochester and Strood. Research found there were more than 10,000 incidents a day in 2008-9 across England and Wales.

In January this year there were 5263 reported incidents of anti-social behaviour across Kent. It’s time now for a fresh approach that properly supports victims and helps the authorities to act quickly and effectively.

The current tools and powers created by the last Labour Government are too bureaucratic and do not work effectively against anti-social behaviour. Recent statistics show that more than 56 per cent of ASBOs issued in 2009 were breached, many more than once.

On 7 February the government launched a consultation setting out a series of proposals to tackle anti-social behaviour:

• Easier to use powers made available to the authorities.
• More streamlined system – replacing the current 18 formal powers with just 5.
• Real and meaningful penalties for perpetrators who breach the terms of their punishments
• Greater powers for communities and residents to make sure the authorities take action.

The five powers under consultation are:

• Community Triggers – local agencies will be compelled to take action if no action is taken after several people in the same neighbourhood have complained or one individual complains three times
• Criminal Behaviour Orders – issued by the courts after conviction, would ban an individual from certain activities or places. They would require them to address their behaviour, for example attending drug treatment programmes. A breach would see an individual face a maximum five year prison term;
• Crime Prevention Injunctions – designed to nip bad behaviour in the bud before it escalates. The injunction would carry a civil burden of proof, making it quicker and easier to obtain than previous tools. For adults, breach of the injunction could see you imprisoned or fined. For under-18s a breach could be dealt with through curfews, supervision or detention.
• Community Protection Orders – comprising one order for local authorities to stop persistent environmental ASB like graffiti, neighbour noise or dog fouling; and another for police and local authorities to deal with more serious disorder and criminality in a specific place such as closing a property used for drug dealing; and
• Police ‘Direction’ powers – a power to direct any individual causing or likely to cause crime or disorder away from a particular place and to confiscate related items.

These proposals to reform the anti-social behaviour tools and powers are just one part of the government’s new approach to anti-social behaviour that includes:

• Directly-elected Police and Crime Commissioners to restore the link between police and the communities they serve
• Street level crime maps and local policing information that allow the public to see exactly where crime and ASB are committed in their neighbourhood;
• A new approach for handling complaints of ASB that will be trialled in eight police forces. The new system for logging complaints will make it easier to share information, helping to quickly identify and protect vulnerable victims;
• Plans for social landlords to speed up eviction of tenants who commit persistent ASB, announced by the Housing Minister earlier this year; and
• Baroness Newlove’s work, the Government’s Champion for Active Safer Communities who is working to empower communities and drive up local activism.

Mark Reckless said:

“I fully support this commitment from the government to fight back against anti-social behaviour with stream-lined but more effective powers, and real, meaningful penalties.

Labour’s ASBOs totally failed to deal with the levels of disorder that we have witnessed across Rochester and Strood. I was shocked on Monday to hear Vernon Coaker, shadow police minister, claim that under Labour ‘anti-social behaviour became less of a problem’. I think this shows just how out of touch Labour are with the real concerns of people in Rochester and Strood”.