‘Show trial’ fears over plans to make police face public hearings

Theresa May, who announced the plans last month
Theresa May, who announced the plans last month
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Public hearings for police accused of misconduct would be nothing more than “show trials”, according to the body representing rank and file officers in West Yorkshire.

Plans to increase accountability in the country’s police forces, set out by Home Secretary Theresa May last month, include bringing in an independent chairman to lead the hearings.

Protections for police whistleblowers against disciplinary action will also be strengthened under the proposals. Mrs May said the new system, which is set for public consultation, would be “more robust, independent and transparent”.

Hearings may still be held in private in certain cases, such as where national security is at risk, where an ongoing court case or criminal investigation could be compromised or where there is a concern over the health and welfare of the police officer or another witness at the hearing.

But Nick Smart, chairman of West Yorkshire Police Federation, said the proposal to hold the hearings in public “cause us concerns around what would essentially be show trials”.

He said: “Where are the safeguards in there for officers and their families? Should an officer be acquitted they will remain stigmatised for the rest of their career by having to go through that process.”

He added: “By having an independent chair – but keeping structures as they are at the moment – there will be a robustness brought to the process and it will comply with ethical and transparent requirements.”

Mike Stubbs, chairman of North Yorkshire’s Police Federation, said: “Legal chairs will bring some consistency to misconduct outcomes and may prove to be a cost-saving measure because we might see fewer appeals, as they get it right first time.

“But in respect of public hearings, we need to keep focus on the fact that this is misconduct, they are not criminal offences that officers are being dealt with for. It is whether it is proportionate or fair to the individual to do that.”