Lords support for amendment to bill

A delegation from the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) Parliamentary Sub-Committee met with Lord Bernard Hogan-Howe, Lord Willy Bach and Lord Vernon Coaker earlier this week to press for three amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is due to become law next year.

The new bill introduces a new standard to which police drivers must conform, linked to an individual driver’s training and their force policy. An officer will be licensed to drive according to what they are trained to do, but no more. Performing a manoeuvre that is not trained or not policy is likely to fall within the new definition of careless or dangerous driving. Going beyond the terms of the licence could give rise to criminal liability and this has prompted the Federation to seek an amendment to the bill.

South Wales Police Federation chair Steve Treharne said: “Many police drivers currently worry that they will be prosecuted simply for doing their job – that isn’t acceptable, and it doesn’t do the public any favours, either. The bill sets out that police drivers will no longer be judged according to the careful and competent civilian driver but the current wording could further criminalise them which I am sure was not the original intention of the new legislation.

“I am glad that this meeting has secured further support towards making this vital amendment a legal reality, and hope that it has also done the same for the other two changes the Federation is pushing for.

“The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is a great opportunity to get legislation in place that will really help our members.”

Tim Rogers, national Federation lead on pursuits and driver training, added: “As part of three amendments the Federation is seeking to the bill, we want to see a reasonable defence clause added 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 and the threat that is posed. Any departure from the relevant standard should be reasonable and proportionate.

“At our meeting, the Lords agreed they are an essential aspect of making the bill fit for purpose to ensure our colleagues covering the millions of miles of our roads network to keep the public safe are given the support and protection they deserve and are not penalised for doing their jobs.

“To make the bill achieve what legislators intended, we need this amendment.”

An amendment is also being put forward that 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 take off after a police stop. Figures show one in four roads policing officers were subjected to a vehicle being used as weapon against them during the past year.

In addition to changes that would affect police drivers, the Federation, via its Time Limits campaign, is fighting for police conduct investigations to be concluded within 12 months from the moment an allegation is made.

The Federation wants legally qualified people to be given the power to impose deadlines on investigations which have dragged on for over a year.

National Federation conduct and performance lead Phill Matthews said: “We’ve explained our rationale on why we think it is important for complainants, members of the public and our police colleagues to get complaints dealt with within a 12-month timescale or, if not, to have some legal oversight on why the investigations isn’t moving at a reasonable and fair pace. The Lords have understood that and are prepared to support that in the bill which is great news.”

The tabled amendments, which have already gained cross-party support, will now be taken forward to the committee stage and will be discussed in detail by the House of Lords.

Parliamentary Sub-Committee secretary Tiff Lynch said: “I am really grateful to those peers in the House of Lords who are showing us so much support for our amendments. We will continue pushing towards a change in legislation which will support and protect our members.”