Sunday, 10 October 2010

Met Police - Escaping The Rule Of Law

In the name of saving money, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner is seeking to make it harder to challenge abuses of police power, according to this report in the Guardian:

Sir Paul Stephenson, the commissioner of the Metropolitan police, has privately lobbied the home secretary to make it harder for people to take legal action against his force, the Guardian has learned.

Critics say the plans amount to an attempt by the police to put themselves beyond the rule of law and undermine constitutional safeguards against abuses of power. The Met's chief says money is being wasted on speculative claims, with lawyers gaining large fees that would be better spent fighting crime.

The proposals are contained in appendices to a letter marked "confidential" and sent to Theresa May by Stephenson, who is Britain's most senior police officer, on 22 June.

Suing the police for damages through a civil action doesn't achieve justice. However, because of the unwillingness of the CPS to bring prosecutions when people have been on the receiving end of police misconduct and abuse (and because of the equal ineptitude of the Independent Police Complaints Commission), it is often the only way to at least try and find an opportunity to bring evidence to court and have it examined. This seldom happens, of course - usually the police are desperate to reach a financial settlement without admitting liability before a claim reaches a courtroom. I'm not sure what the current figures are, but in 2007 the Times reported that over a five year period, these settlements reached more than £44 million over 55 police forces. Nor is Stephenson the first Met Commissioner to try and shift blame away from his officers - his predecessor Paul Condon made the same argument in 2004. It's a standard response of the Met to point the finger elsewhere.

If the Met wants to deal with the amount it spends on settlements, it should look to the reasons why cases are brought in the first place, not make it harder for people to bring them. And if it is looking for savings, perhaps it should look instead at the expenses of its senior officers.

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