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Last week the High Court sent an unequivocal message to Home Secretary, Theresa May, calling for revision of the powers available to Police Appeal Tribunals (PAT) (Chief Constable of Hampshire v Police Appeals Tribunal  EWHC 746).
The PAT had been forced to reinstate a police officer after finding that his disciplinary hearing was unfair because of the panel’s refusal to call crucial witnesses. The relevant statutory framework governing appeals did not permit the PAT to remit the case back to the disciplinary panel for fresh consideration. This was far from satisfactory in a case involving evidence of serious inappropriate sexual behaviour by the officer concerned.
The High Court had no option but to uphold the PAT’s finding and reject the Chief Constable’s challenge. In view of the serious nature of the allegation it could not fault the PAT’s reasoning that where a dispute turns on one person’s word against another, the evidence of one of them cannot be preferred without hearing from them both.
The High Court found itself in the same difficult position as the PAT. That is, forced to recognise the serious procedural irregularity, but unable to afford the parties effective justice. It clearly troubled the court that an officer had to be reinstated on a ‘technicality’ rather than a proper evaluation of the evidence.
The message it sent the Home Secretary is a blunt one: The Police Act 1996 and The Police Appeals Tribunal Rules 2008 must be amended to give the PAT a clear power to remit a case back to the disciplinary panel for fresh consideration or be given a power to re-determine the case itself.
Unfortunately for the Home Secretary, the bad news did not end there. The court also found that Home Office Guidance issued in 2008 – which had informed the disciplinary panel chair’s refusal to call witnesses – has no statutory force since the Police Act 1996 (namely section 87(1)) does not provide the Home Secretary power to administer such guidance, despite the claim made in its introduction.
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