Police hearings held in secret

Freedom of Information requests have revealed that 48 police officers in Wales have faced serious misconduct hearings in the past three years, including allegations of assault, careless driving, drinking on duty and breach of confidentiality, all of which were held in secret.

Yesterday, the Western Mail reported that calls had been made for public hearings for police officers, in line with doctors, nurses and teachers. Councillor Malcolm King told the paper:

It is a balance between what harm is done by having them out in the open against what harm is done by not doing so.
For pubic services the question should always be, ‘are we being open enough with the public, do the public have a right to know and is it in the public interest?’ There needs to be a change in priorities.
All hearings should have to be held in public unless there is a good reason to have them in private, not the other way around.

A spokesman for Dyfed Powys Police, the force which was heavily criticised for arresting a citizen who refused to stop filming a public council meeting earlier this month, said the figures only referred to misconduct hearings, and that minor cases were brought to misconduct meetings as outlined by government policy. John Feavyour from the Association of Chief Police Officers defended the current system, saying other public professions only hold hearings in public when allegations are ‘serious breaches’ that ‘involve their professional bodies’.

Gwent police officers smashed the car window of Robert Whatley, 71, after he was pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt. He was denied access to the disciplinary hearing that vindicated the two officers involved, as was his lawyer. His son Peter pointed out that the hearing panels are made up of senior police officers rather than independents, and told the Western Mail:

These hearings need to be held in public simply for accountability. If a doctor is accused of breaching confidentiality or a teacher for assaulting a pupil they are made accountable in public hearings, why should it be any different for police officers? It is an antiquated system and sets a dangerous precedent.

Tom Whatley is right, and disciplinary hearings should be accessible, transparent and effective. If justice is not seen to be done, if it is done at all, then hearings serve little purpose other than to spare the blushes of chastised officers. If the public are to have confidence in the police, they need to see the police live under the same laws as the rest of the population, and face consequences when those laws and codes are broken.

FOI requests submitted by the Times (£)

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