Reforms to police disciplinary and complaints systems aiming to ensure public confidence in the police are among a number of measures proposed by the government. The Policing and Criminal Justice Bill, as announced in the Queen’s Speech, will also reform legislation relating to the detention of those experiencing a mental health crisis.

The aims of this Bill are described as a continuation of current reforms to ensure that the criminal justice system protects the general public, those who are vulnerable and to build confidence within the justice system. There has been considerable public suggestion over recent times regarding the accountability of police officers. This Bill aims to improve the confidence that the public have in those who investigate crime and to ensure that they are accountable.

Detailed proposals as to criminal justice reforms that are designed to build on public perception, confidence and efficiency to the system are expected over the coming weeks.

Most criminal practitioners will have experience in the inordinate delays when defendants are placed on police bail pending either charging advice from the Crown Prosecution Service or further investigation. Often defendants can face many months of uncertainty without a definitive understanding as to the reasoning for the delay.

The Bill would primarily allow for pre-charge bail for a period of 28 days. Extensions to that period, however, would be permissible–an additional three months could be authorised by a senior police office and, thereafter, a further extension on application to the court to be granted by a magistrate. Regularly those investigated are placed on police bail in excess of three months and it is therefore anticipated and trusted that such judicial participation within the pre-charge stage will allow for, and provide, greater scrutiny.

It is intended that the Bill will reform legislation in respect of those persons detained under the Mental Health Act 1983, ss 135 and 136. Such sections set out how those believed to be ‘suffering from a mental disorder’ can be detained in a place of safety for up to a maximum of 72 hours. The powers are not with regard to individuals who are suspected of having committed a criminal offence but those are suffering from a mental health disorder and require protection (and indeed others).

The reforms intended will:

  • reduce the present maximum 72 hours
  • prohibit the use of police cells as places of safety in respect of those under the age of 18 years, and
  • restrict the usage of prison cells in relation to adults.

The final report in relation to the Independent Police Federation Review in 2014 called for reforms because of a significant loss of confidence and influence both outside the organisation and within. The Bill will seek to strengthen such need and call for reforms to focus on the Police Federation’s Core Purpose which includes maintaining ‘exemplary standards of conduct, integrity and professionalism’. Not only will the Freedom of Information Act 2000 be amended to include the Police Federation to allow for transparency within the police, but also reforms will ensure police officers are held accountable and that accountability is transparent to the general public.

Changes to the police disciplinary system include:

  • an overall strengthening of powers
  • the use of national appeal hearings
  • powers for the Independent Police Complaints Commission to present its own cases to disciplinary hearing panels, and
  • important reforms to conduct and disciplinary regulations with regard to former police officers that will allow for misconduct cases to be concluded in full despite an officer’s departure from the force.

For more information on the new bill, please contact one of our criminal law solicitors.