Police Law Blog European Decisions Statutory Materials

Taking conduct decisions at face value

The Police Appeals Tribunal should take care not to go behind clearly expressed statements made by police hearings tribunals. It should also take care as to the order of witnesses where hearsay evidence is being admitted: Squire v (1) The Queen (CC Thames Valley Police) (2) PAT [2016] EWCA Civ 1315.

This is a somewhat obvious decision of the Court of Appeal, which nevertheless raises some questions. A police misconduct hearing was said to have “admitted” hearsay evidence. In the event, the decision of the panel expressly stated that the evidence was of no relevance and that it had put it out of its mind, before going on to find gross misconduct proved and dismissing the officer.

The Police Appeals Tribunal found that the panel could not have put the evidence out of its mind, having heard it, and allowed the appeal. Mitting J, in the High Court, allowed a judicial review against that decision, finding (at paragraph 20 of his judgment) that the panel was a professional or semi-professional panel, it had made it clear beyond doubt that it had put the hearsay information out of its mind. In the absence of evidence to show that it did not do so, its reasoning was to be accepted.

In a short judgment, the Court of Appeal has affirmed that reasoning, stating (at paragraph 20) that Mitting J was correct to point out that the PAT could not go behind the panel’s disavowal absent clear evidential basis to show how it was wrong [original emphasis].

Slightly odd, for those who practise regularly in police misconduct hearings, was the Court of Appeal’s comments about the panel’s admitting evidence. The Court assumed that a police misconduct hearing panel had the power to regulate the evidence presented to it – see paragraph 21. It may have such an implied power – it is not express within the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2012 but, of course, public law principles of fairness will apply. Further, misconduct hearing panels are presented not with a trial bundle with admissible evidence per se rather than an investigation report with the relevant documents attached. All of that material is information before the panel, whether witnesses are or are not called. This was stated in relation to what should have been the proper order of witnesses, where it was held the police misconduct hearing panel may have erred. That said, it is not clear whether a panel has, as a matter of law, the power to admit material or strike-out material presented to it as opposed to weighing material as a matter of evidence.

Stephen Morley represented the Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police.