When the Parliamentary committee discussed the possible disqualification for Police and Crime commissioners Nick Herbert, Minister for Policing, was unequivocal:
“The importance of the police and crime commissioner post means that it requires a higher standard….. because those elected individuals will hold a police force to account, and members of the police force are themselves held to a higher standard for obvious reasons. There is a case, therefore, for treating PCCs differently from those in other elected posts. That is why I brought forward the amendment. Under the amendment, any person convicted of an imprisonable offence at any time will be permanently disqualified from standing as a police and crime commissioner. I emphasise “an imprisonable offence”; the amendment does not suggest that the person has to have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment. That is a very high standard that is unprecedented for a UK election. The position, however, is unprecedented, too, and the nature of the post demands a higher standard. The standard is higher than any that has been suggested in either Government or Opposition amendments. It is a stringent measure, but it is right, so I hope that the Committee will understand why I tabled the amendment. “
Despite the committee having little grasp on the nature of “imprisonable” offences (the majority of offences are imprisonable including trespass on a railway embankment!) the cross-party committee agreed the test. This of course led to my resignation and that of several other prospective candidates who had been found guilty of offences in their childhoods. This week the Home Office advertised two posts for Independent Police Complaints Commissioners (IPCCs). The role:
“From 22 November 2012, police authorities were replaced by elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs). The IPCC will be responsible for investigating all criminal allegations against PCCs, and their equivalents in London as well as complaints against the police and including Chief Constables.”
As the Chief Executive of the IPCC Dame Anne Owers says:
“The IPCC performs a role which is central to our democracy. It exercises its powers on behalf of society as a whole, not necessarily in a way that the individual complainant or police officer would want. It operates in a highly adversarial and emotionally charged context, subject to intense and often critical public and media scrutiny. We are seeking truly exceptional people who will relish these challenges, demonstrate independence and lead the IPCC through the next phase of its life. “
One would think then that the standards for these posts in terms in individuals would be even higher than those for Police and Crime Commissioners given that they will be policing the police and PCCs? Think again because the main disqualification bar in terms of past criminal offences is:
“People who have received a prison sentence or suspended sentence of three months or more in the last five years. “
Now I have absolutely no issue with this level of disqualification but it does highlight how one government Department, the Home Office, who are responsible for both posts, can get this so badly wrong. It raises again the absurdity of the original disqualifications of the PCC posts and the arbitrary way that issues concerning the rehabilitation of offenders are dealt with across government.
It’s time for a new and radical approach not just the PCC posts but how we view and treat people with past criminal convictions.
Bob Ashford Wipetheslateclean.