An amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill designed to ensure the new legislation does not leave police drivers at greater risk of prosecution will be considered by the House of Lords later this year after failing to be discussed in the Commons.
Tim Rogers, national Federation lead for police pursuits and driver training, believes that without the amendment to the bill police drivers will actually be put at further jeopardy by a change to the law aimed at offering them better legal protection.
“We are really grateful for the support that we have had to date,” says Tim, who is also deputy secretary of West Midlands Police Federation, “Our campaign for legislative change has been running for more than eight years now and we are on the brink of success in terms of ensuring it is truly fit for purpose but the wording of the bill has to be amended and we are hopeful that, with the support of the Lords, this will be agreed.
“The current wording sets out that drivers must follow their training at all times but this could mean more officers are prosecuted since, if they act instinctively rather than to the letter of their training, they could be found to have breached policy and procedures which could be deemed to be falling below the standard of the careful and competent police driver.
“The Government, the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the Independent Office for Police Conduct have all listened to what we have been saying but there is a real risk that this new legislation could inadvertently further criminalise officers. We have a number of Lords who are supportive of our aims.
“It is going to be a bitter disappointment to officers the length and the breadth of the country if this legislation, so long in the making, does not give them the protection they deserve. Too many officers have already been dragged through the courts, putting them and their families under untold pressure, when they have simply been doing their jobs, and often putting their own lives on the line while doing so.”
The Federation wants a reasonableness defence clause to be added to the bill to give officers flexibility to respond legally to the matters they encounter on duty.
This would take into account what they reasonably believe they are responding to, the threat that is posed and any departure from the relevant standard should be reasonable and proportionate.
Tim explains: “Adding this defence will ensure we have legislation that is fit for purpose. This feels very much like we are almost over the finishing line in terms of getting the change to the law that is needed so that police drivers can use their skills and training when driving police vehicles, fighting crime, dealing with criminals, serving and protecting the public.
“Now we just need to ensure that in tackling the obvious issues caused by judging police officers’ driving by the standards of your careful and competent driver, we don’t create a greater risk to police drivers who, quite naturally, should be able to react instinctively to what they are faced with.”
The risk created by the wording of the new bill was raised with the Home Secretary at the Police Federation’s annual national conference last month when she said she will “absolutely” work together with the Federation to ensure it did not inadvertently further criminalise them. She said the Home Office would work through how it could make it work in the right way.
An amendment to the bill was tabled by Philip Davies, Conservative MP for Shipley, and was due to be debated in the House of Commons on 5 July but there was not sufficient time for it to be debated and the bill continued its passage through Parliament moving to the Lords.
“We had submitted a compelling argument for this amendment and both the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the Independent Office for Police Conduct have shared their concerns with the Home Office. If we fail to secure this amendment officers will be advised to never go beyond what they have been trained since the new test under the bill as it stands will encourage officers to stand by impotently or risk exposing themselves to prosecution.”
The bill will introduce a new legal test so officers’ driving will be measured against that of a ‘careful and competent police driver’, however, this could still leave them exposed.
“An officer will be licensed to drive in accordance with what they have been trained to do but nothing more. Performing a manoeuvre which is not trained or in policy is likely to fall into the new definition of dangerous and careless driving under a new test against the careful and competent police driver,” Tim explained.
“Going beyond the terms of that licence could give rise to criminal liability. I have grave concerns around the practicality of this approach. What’s a police officer to do if they encounter something which falls outside of this policy? The bill in its current format won’t permit a police officer to respond legally when confronted by the many and varied situations officers are likely to encounter while driving police vehicles.”
An amendment to Section 163 powers is also being put forward. This would enable officers to compel drivers to switch off their engines, a measure which could help stem the growing number of officers injured when drivers make off after a police stop.