Police given greater powers to sack officers following Couzens and Carrick scandals


Police officers who are found guilty of gross misconduct will face automatic dismissal under reforms designed to toughen up the disciplinary process following a series of scandals.

Chief constables and other senior officers will be given greater powers to sack rogue staff while those who fail vetting checks can also be fired.

Under the new system, a finding of gross misconduct will automatically result in a police officer’s dismissal unless there are exceptional circumstances. Senior officers will also chair the independent panels who carry out misconduct hearings.

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The move comes following a series of scandals engulfing the police, including the murder of Sarah Everard by serving Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens and the unmasking of former police constable David Carrick as a serial abuser and rapist.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Mark Rowley, who had been pushing for changes to police regulations to make it easier to sack rogue officers, welcomed the development.

“I’m grateful to the government for recognising the need for substantial change that will empower chief officers in our fight to uphold the highest standards and restore confidence in policing,” he said.

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“The flaws in the existing regulations have contributed to our inability to fully address the systemic issues of poor standards and misconduct.

“Chief officers are held to account for the service we deliver and for the standards we uphold which is why I have been persistent in calling for us to have the powers to act decisively and without bureaucratic delays when we identify those who have no place in policing.”

The government said it would bring in the changes as soon as possible. It is understood officials hope they could be in place by next spring.

Government ‘too slow to raise standards’

But the Labour Party said the government had been “too slow” to raise standards and that the measures announced did not go far enough.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “Labour has been calling for over two years for the complete overhaul of the police misconduct and vetting systems and these reforms are long overdue.

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Former Metropolitan Police officer Adam Provan has been jailed for 16 years for raping a woman and a girl.

“But as well as being too slow, the Conservatives are also not going far enough to raise standards, root out abuse and restore confidence in the vital work the police do to keep communities safe.”

She said Labour wanted police officers under investigation for rape and domestic violence to be suspended pending investigation and called for mandatory national vetting standards to end the “postcode lottery” across forces.

“We would also reform training and misconduct processes to help restore confidence in the police,” she added.

The government announcement comes just a day after six former home secretaries backed a new bill by Labour MP Harriet Harman, which would see officers automatically dismissed if convicted of a serious criminal offence, automatically suspended if charged with a serious criminal offence and automatically dismissed if they fail vetting.

Lawyers known as legally qualified chairs were brought in to oversee police disciplinary panels in 2016, in a bid to make the system more transparent.

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But critics have argued that the system has been too slow to root out rogue officers and that senior officers are more likely to sack those found guilty of wrongdoing.

Gavin Stephens, chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, welcomed the “sensible” plans, saying they put police chiefs “back in control” of being able to quickly remove corrupt staff from forces.

Concerns over ‘police chiefs marking their own homework’

Under the reforms announced today independent lawyers will continue to sit on the panel but will perform only supporting roles.

The head of the police watchdog, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) previously warned against making chief constables “judge and jury” in disciplinary hearings.

The IOPC wants lawyers to be in charge of misconduct hearings but for chief constables to decide on the punishment if wrongdoing is proven.

John Bassett, a barrister representing the National Association of Legally Qualified Chairs, speaking in a personal capacity, said he was “disappointed” by the proposed changes.

“No-one has yet explained to me or can present a convincing argument as to why the present system does not fulfil that role of being an open, transparent and fair process,” he said.

“Police officers, as so-called officers of the crown, do not have a right to claim unfair dismissal, and in those circumstances the best and at present the only way of ensuring that there is a fair outcome, if it resulted in dismissal, is by having a legally qualified chair assisting and advising the panel on the proper procedure.

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“Otherwise you’re going back to a situation where there is a real risk that effectively by reverting to the pre-2016 system or something similar, police officers or police chiefs are marking their own homework.

But Home Secretary Suella Braverman said: “For too long our police chiefs have not had the powers they need to root out those who have no place wearing the uniform.

“Now they can take swift and robust action to sack officers who should not be serving our communities.”

Liberal Democrats home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael welcomed the announcement but said: “It’s a disgrace that it’s taken so long in the first place.

“Being able to sack corrupt officers swiftly is a key step in rebuilding public trust in the police. Now, the Home Office must ensure that these new rules are properly enforced.”