On 3 May 2023, the House of Lords is due to debate the following motion:

Lord Lexden (Conservative) to move that the Grand Committee takes note of the case for restoring public confidence in the police.

1. Model of policing in the UK: Principle of policing by consent

The policing model in the UK is built on the principle of ‘policing by consent’. This is a concept derived from the nine ‘general instructions’ given to the first police officers of the Metropolitan police service (MPS) in 1829. The general instructions are sometimes referred to as the Peelian principles of policing, named after Sir Robert Peel, who was home secretary when the MPS was founded. However, the Home Office states the nine principles were likely devised by the first commissioners of police of the metropolis, Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne.

According to the Peelian principles, the police’s authority is dependent on public consent: if the public withdrew their support, the police would lose its authority. The Home Office explains that the concept of policing by consent “refers to the power of the police coming from the common consent of the public, as opposed to the power of the state”. It does not mean the consent of an individual. The Home Office stresses that no individual can choose to withdraw their consent from the police or from the law.

The Peelian principles said officers should recognise that the power of the police was dependent on public approval and respect. They said officers should only use physical force when the “exercise of persuasion, advice and warning [was] found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation” and secure law and order. Officers should use the “minimum degree” of physical force necessary. However, the general principles state that public consent is maintained “not by pandering to public opinion” but by applying the law fairly, impartially and by using minimal force”.

The College of Policing’s code of ethics state that to demonstrate they are applying the law fairly, police forces should operate with transparency. Forces are required to provide certain data about their use of powers to the Home Office. Under section 34 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, they must also give the public opportunity to receive information about their local force and to comment on policing in their area.

In England and Wales, local policing bodies are responsible for securing an “effective and efficient” police force for their area. In most areas the local policing body is a directly elected politician, who is either a police and crime commissioner (PCC) or a combined authority mayor. They have a dual role relating to policing by consent: a governance role in which they set local priorities for their chief officer and an accountability role in which they monitor their force’s performance. One way in which the public can hold PCCs and mayors accountable for policing in their area is through voting in elections. PCC elections take place every four years. The standard length of a mayoral term is also four years.

The House of Commons Library briefing ‘Policing in the UK’ (29 September 2021) provides further information on the principles underpinning the model of policing in the UK. It also sets out how police forces are organised and managed across the four nations and discusses some of the key actors in UK policing.

2. Public confidence in local police forces: Recent surveys

Several surveys have presented a picture of falling public confidence and satisfaction with the police over recent years.

Most respondents to the Office for National Statistics’ ‘Crime survey for England and Wales’ said they thought their local police were doing a good or excellent job. However, the numbers responding this way declined from 63% in 2015/16 to 56% in 2019/20. A switch to telephone-based interviews between March 2020 and October 2021, during the coronavirus pandemic, means more recent years are not directly comparable. Surveys conducted during this time found that 68% in 2020/21 and 67% in 2021/22 felt police were doing a good or excellent job.

Surveys conducted by the polling organisation YouGov indicate a loss of public confidence in the police:

The Institute for Government suggests that a “deterioration in attitudes to policing” is likely to be linked to highly-publicised cases of misconduct and illegal behaviour by officers, such as the case of David Carrick, who in February 2023 pleaded guilty to 49 offences, including 24 counts of rape. These offences were all committed while he was a serving officer in the MPS. There have been several controversies involving the MPS over recent years (see section 3 for further details), and surveys on public confidence in the force has mirrored the national surveys.

Recent data from the London Mayor’s Office for Police and Crime’s ‘Public attitude survey’ revealed that of the Londoners surveyed:

  • 73% had trust in the police in March 2022, compared to 80% in March 2021
  • 49% had “confidence (good job local) in the police” in March 2022, compared to 55% in March 2021
  • 62% agreed that the police treated everyone fairly regardless of who they are, compared to 70% in March 2021

A recent YouGov poll commissioned by the BBC found that 42% of those surveyed somewhat or strongly distrusted the MPS as an organisation. The poll was conducted between 27 and 31 March 2023 and the sample size was 1051 adults in London. Of those surveyed, 43% said they thought more negatively of the MPS than they did at the same point in the previous year. The survey also found that 73% of respondents said they believed the force treated some people differently to others.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) tracks the public’s perceptions towards it as an organisation and about the police complaints system. The IOPC oversees the police complaints system in England and Wales. It investigates the most serious matters and sets the standards by which the police should handle complaints.

Some of the key findings from the IOPC’s ‘2021/22 public perceptions tracker annual report’ include:

  • The proportion who said they had confidence in the IOPC had decreased. However, the proportion who had confidence in the organisation remained slightly higher than those who did not.
  • The IOPC still had some work to do in terms of raising the profile of the organisation.
  • Confidence in the police’s ability to deal fairly with complaints had decreased.
  • Recent news stories were likely to have impacted public opinion about policing and police accountability. The IOPC suggested that several incidents, such as the rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer, recent cases of police misconduct, and misuse of stop and search “have been widely noticed by the public and are highly likely to have impacted how the public feel towards the police and by extension the IOPC”. It found the effect on “young people and Black and Asian people has been strong, with these groups feeling less positive towards the police compared to last year”.
  • A perception of racism and sexism within the police has contributed to increased negative sentiment towards the police.
  • Almost a fifth of respondents said that an increased police presence in communities would help improve confidence in policing.
  • The majority of the public would report violence against women and girls to the police and would make a complaint if unsatisfied with the response. However, it found that Black people and women were less likely to report violence against women and girls than the general public if the offender was a police officer.

3. Recent inquiries into police conduct

In recent years, there has been a series of high-profile cases of serious failings, misconduct and illegal behaviour by serving police officers. This includes, but is not limited to, the following:

These incidents, among others, have raised concerns about police standards and culture in England and Wales. This has led to commitments from government and policing bodies to tackle this issue and has resulted in the launch of several inquiries. These inquiries have ranged from investigations into specific incidents or police forces to looking at broader issues such as vetting processes, professional standards and workplace behaviour.

The rest of section 3 of this briefing discusses some of these inquiries.

3.1 Casey review

In October 2021, Baroness Casey of Blackstock (Crossbench) was appointed by the then commissioner of the MPS, Dame Cressida Dick, to carry out an independent review into the standards of behaviour and internal culture of the MPS. The review was in response to issues raised following the murder of Sarah Everard, and a series of other scandals involving serving police officers.

Baroness Casey’s final report was published in March 2023. Baroness Casey found “severe institutional failings across the organisation” that would require “radical reform”. The key findings of Baroness Casey’s report included:

  • The MPS was failing women and children.
  • Frontline policing had been deprioritised and degraded after a decade of austerity.
  • There was institutional racism, sexism and homophobia inside the organisation in terms of how officers and staff were treated, and outside the organisation in terms of how communities were policed.
  • The MPS was unable to police itself.

Baroness Casey concluded that all of this meant that “policing by consent [was] broken”.

The review’s recommendations included that the MPS should:

  • better protect women and children with a dedicated protection service, a new children’s strategy, and by reinstating sexual and domestic abuse services as specialist functions
  • re-invest and reprioritise frontline policing
  • take “rapid steps” to end discrimination internally in its recruitment, development and promotion process, and in its internal misconduct system; and externally by policing all communities equally, including with a reset of stop and search
  • improve the integrity of its own police service by bringing in an independent team to run its misconduct system; introducing higher vetting standards; tackling “toxic cultures” with clearer statements of standards for all and tougher enforcement of the standards; and disbanding and reforming “dark corner units where some of the worst behaviours” had been found
  • improve leadership and accountability with a new policing board for London led by the mayor of London; and a new policing deal for Londoners that “acknowledges historic mistakes and prioritises securing consent of the public to police them”

Baroness Casey said there should be points of further review to monitor progress. She stated that if there was not sufficient improvement, more “radical, structural options”, such as dividing up the MPS into national, specialist and London responsibilities, should be considered.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley welcomed the report and accepted its findings. The MPS said the findings would be taken to inform its ‘turnaround plan’ to reform and rebuild public trust (see section 4 of this briefing). In an interview about the report, Sir Mark said that while he would not use the expression “institutional racism” because the term was, he argued, ambiguous and politicised, he did accept the “diagnosis” of the report.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said that he accepted Baroness Casey’s conclusion that the MPS was “institutionally” racist, homophobic and misogynistic. He argued that the MPS’s culture “needed changing”, and the officers who were unfit to serve should be “root[ed] out”. Mr Khan said he was “unflinching” in his “resolve to support and hold the new commissioner to account as he works to overhaul the force”.

In a statement to the House of Commons, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said the report made for “very concerning reading” and had made clear there had been “serious failures” of culture, leadership and standards in the MPS. Ms Braverman said that Sir Mark had made it his top priority to restore confidence in policing. She said she would ensure the MPS had “all the support it needs from central government” to “deliver on Sir Mark’s pledge of more trust, less crime and high standards”.

National chair of the Police Federation for England and Wales (PFEW), Steve Hartshorn, agreed the report had raised serious issues that needed to be “properly addressed” to restore public confidence in the police. Mr Hartshorn said the report showed that culture change was “desperately” needed across all forces, and not just within the MPS. He argued that this needed to start from the top through “ethical leadership”, and that the PFEW would work with all police chiefs to implement the report’s recommendations. Mr Hartshorn “fully agree[d]” with Baroness Casey that the police had “to accept what is wrong, learn from it, change and move forwards”.

3.2 Angiolini inquiry

Following the murder of Sarah Everard, the then home secretary, Priti Patel, launched a two-part inquiry into how Wayne Couzens “an off-duty Metropolitan police officer was able to abduct, rape and murder a member of the public”. Former Lord Advocate of Scotland Lady Elish Angiolini was appointed to chair the inquiry.

The first part of the inquiry was established to examine Mr Couzens’ previous behaviour and establish a definitive account of his conduct leading to his conviction. The second part of the inquiry was set up to look at wider issues across policing in England and Wales, including vetting practices, professional standards and discipline, and workplace behaviour.

In June 2022, Lady Elish wrote to the home secretary to advise that she would be prevented from finalising and submitting part 1 of her report until the ongoing proceedings against Wayne Couzens had concluded. In March 2023 Lady Elish updated the home secretary, informing her that while Mr Couzens had been sentenced, there remained two outstanding misconduct proceedings relevant to the inquiry. However, Lady Elish said she expected to be able to deliver her report on part 1 of the inquiry as soon as possible after Parliament returned from its summer break.

Between 27 January and 24 February 2023, the inquiry consulted on draft terms of reference for part 2 of the Angiolini inquiry. In March 2023, Lady Elish wrote to the home secretary stating that the responses to the consultation showed that the terms of reference were largely fit for purpose. Lady Elish confirmed the inquiry’s intention to examine questions relating to:

  • the frequency of vetting checks
  • the adequacy of disciplinary processes
  • protection for whistleblowers
  • the views and experiences of female officers
  • the use of social media and messaging apps by police officers

In February 2023, the home secretary expanded the terms of reference of the Angiolini inquiry to include the case of former PC David Carrick.

3.3 Review into police vetting, misconduct and misogyny in England and Wales

Alongside the Angiolini inquiry, the then home secretary, Priti Patel, announced that she had commissioned His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) to assess the capability of police forces to vet and monitor officers. This included examining forces’ abilities to detect and deal with misogynistic and predatory behaviour by police officers and staff.

HMICFRS published its findings in November 2022. It concluded that vetting standards were not high enough and that it was “too easy for the wrong people to both join and stay in the police”. HMICFRS reported that there had been “some systemic failings, missed opportunities and a generally inadequate approach to the setting and maintenance of standards in the police service”. The report highlighted concerns with the consistency in vetting and decision-making across forces and the skills and capacity in vetting departments to cope with the demands of the government’s police recruitment drive.

HMICFRS made 43 recommendations, which it said was an “unusually high number” for one of its reports. These included:

  • introducing more thorough pre-employment checks
  • improving the quality and consistency of vetting decision-making, and improving the recording of the rationale for some decisions
  • extending the scope of the law relating to police complaint and misconduct procedures

In response to an urgent question in the House of Commons on 3 November 2022, the government said it expected all the recommendations to be “acted on as a matter of urgency”. The chair of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, Marc Jones, said PCCs were committed to holding chief constables to account and would see that “appropriate steps” were in place to “embed all 43 recommendations”.

Martin Hewitt, then chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), highlighted that the inspectorate had “agreed with 90 percent of the vetting decisions” made by police forces and found “80 percent of misconduct investigations were effective”. However, he acknowledged the report had found “flawed processes and questionable or wrong decisions”. Mr Hewitt said the NPCC had already begun work to improve standards, and that the recommendations would be “addressed in full” and “included in ongoing activity where appropriate”. He stated:

The confidence of the public and our staff is dependent on us fixing these problems with urgency, fully and for the long term. Police chiefs are determined to do that.

In its response to the report, Refuge said that “wholly inadequate” practices were “allowing the wrong people to join, and stay in, the force”. Refuge is a charity supporting women and children experiencing domestic violence. It has called for “radical action” to overhaul the police recruitment and complaints process. Another charity, Rape Crisis, also responded to the HMICFRS report saying the police needed a “cultural overhaul”.

Further information on the HMICFRS review and on the vetting process for police officers can be found in the House of Commons briefing ‘Police vetting: How it works and calls for change’ (11 November 2022).

In January 2023, the Home Office set out steps the government and police were taking to strengthen the vetting of police officers:

  • NPCC to ask all police forces to check their officers and staff against national police databases
  • College of Policing to strengthen the statutory code of practice for police vetting
  • HMICFRS to conduct a rapid review of all forces’ response to the inspectorate’s report into vetting
  • Home Office to conduct an internal review into police dismissals to make sure the system was effective at removing officers who fell short of the standards expected of them (see section 3.4 of this briefing)

In March 2023, HMICFRS launched its urgent review of the police’s progress on implementing the recommendations made in the inspectorate’s 2022 report. HMICFRS said it would examine how forces had addressed the areas outlined for improvement. The Home Office said this “rapid review” would “make sure chief officers are taking the necessary action to remove those who are not fit to serve”.

Also in March 2023, the College of Policing published its revised statutory vetting code of practice for a three-week public consultation. The consultation closed on 21 March 2023. The government has said it expects the revised code to be in force by summer 2023.

3.4 Review of the police disciplinary system

In January 2023, the Home Office launched an internal review into the effectiveness of the police disciplinary system. The Home Office said it would take around four months to complete.

The review was tasked with examining:

  • the consistency of decision-making at misconduct hearings, particularly in cases of discrimination, sexual misconduct and violence against women and girls
  • whether there is disproportionality in dismissals and, if so, examine the potential causes
  • the existing model and composition of misconduct panels including assessing the role of legally qualified chairs, reviewing whether chiefs should have more authority in the process, and reviewing the legal/financial protections in place for panel members
  • whether forces can effectively use regulations that allow probationary officers who do not meet the required standard to be let go
  • whether the current three-tier performance system is effective in being able to dismiss officers who fail to perform the duties expected of their rank and role

The government has said that the review’s aims were to ensure that:

  • the process of police officer dismissals is fair and effective
  • the public can be confident that those falling far short of the high standards expected of them can be removed from policing

The Home Office said the review was “one part of the government’s work to tackle police culture and standards”. It said there was no place for “officers who fall seriously short of the acceptable standards of behaviour”, and that police forces “must root out these officers to restore the public’s trust”.

The Home Office said it would draw evidence from policing stakeholders to establish whether there was a need for further changes to legislation and/or guidance. It also invited evidence from stakeholders on the broader effectiveness of the disciplinary and performance systems for consideration outside the review.

Updating the House of Commons in March 2023 on the progress of the review, Chris Philp, minister of state for crime, policing and fire, set out the government’s timetable:

On 18 January, the Home Office launched a review of the effectiveness of the police dismissal process to determine how improvements can be made. The call for evidence has now ended and the Home Office have received submissions from a wide range of stakeholders. These will now be analysed, with the output from a new data collection, to inform proposals for change. This work will be complete by the end of April and the government are committed to implementing reforms, including via legislation, as soon as practicable thereafter.

Sir Mark Rowley has welcomed the government’s review, which he said he hoped would “change the rules to make it easy to move the toxic people out”. Sir Mark had previously called for greater powers to dismiss police officers and staff. In November 2022, the Times reported that Sir Mark had said his hands were “tied under the present system in which most gross misconduct hearings are independently chaired by legal representatives”. He also stated that he wanted the government to change police regulations to overcome the “heavily bureaucratic” process to remove underperforming police officers.

4. Recent action taken by the Metropolitan police service

Following his appointment as commissioner of the MPS in July 2022, Sir Mark Rowley said that his ambition was to “renew policing by consent”. Sir Mark said the approach would be centred on neighbourhood policing and would have a “ruthless focus on professional standards”.

In January 2023, the MPS launched its draft ‘turnaround plan’, which detailed how the force intended to achieve its mission of “more trust, less crime and high standards”. The plan set out nine priority areas. The nine priorities were:

  • to have the strongest ever neighbourhood policing
  • to strengthen its work in public protection and safeguarding
  • to provide a compassionate and effective service to victims and other members of the public
  • to take a proactive approach to reducing crime
  • to raise standards and show communities it cares and respects them
  • to set the frontline up to succeed and build a strong foundation to stabilise and underpin its delivery
  • to invest in its people by modernising its learning offer, including developing a strong cohort of leaders
  • to be relentlessly data driven and evidence-based in delivery
  • to innovate how it works, make the most efficient use of resources and reinvest where it matters most

The plan described the priorities as a “blend of medium-term priorities that will be delivered over the next two years [2023–25], and longer-term changes which will initiate more fundamental transformation”. The MPS stated the plan had been shared with partners and communities for feedback. It said responses would be used to inform the final version of the plan, which will be published in May 2023.

In April 2023, Sir Mark wrote to Sadiq Khan and Suella Braverman to update them on the MPS’s progress on improving professional standards. Sir Mark said action that had been taken included:

  • Introducing a new process for reviewing the vetting status of serving officers and staff where the force had identified concerns regarding their behaviour. The operation focuses on cases where an individual’s conduct represents a breach of public trust. Sir Mark reported that at the time of writing, there had been 30 cases referred into the process.
  • Checking every member of the MPS against the police national computer that records convictions. It had shown that there were 161 police officers in the force to have a criminal conviction. Of the 161, 49 officers had convictions for crimes of dishonesty or violence, and of those 49, eight officers committed their offence whilst in the force and remained serving. The professional standards unit is to examine all 161 cases to see whether special restrictions needed to be placed on those officers or whether they needed to be placed in the new vetting system.
  • Reviewing the case for deviating from the national vetting guidelines and imposing a stricter set of rules that would bar those with convictions, “beyond the most trivial matters”, or crimes committed as young persons, from joining. Sir Mark said that the current guidance allowed “too great a risk” of unsuitable people being able to join. He stated this would be an interim measure while it awaited the new guidance from the College of Policing and the report of the Angiolini inquiry.
  • Checking every member of the MPS against the police national database, the national intelligence database for policing. The first phase to check all officers against intelligence records had been completed. Sir Mark said the next step would be to check each match to see if it is of concern and needed to be acted upon. The team had checked over 10,000 data matches at the time of Sir Mark’s update. From these 10,000 reports, they had identified 38 cases of potential misconduct, as well as 55 cases where an officer had an ‘off duty’ association with someone of a criminal background. These cases were being examined by the professional standards team.
  • Re-assessing some of the MPS’s most sensitive professional standards investigations in recent years. By the end of March 2023, they had completed an assessment on 1,131 individuals. Of the 1,131 cases, 689 are to be subject to a new assessment to pursue new or missed lines of inquiry. They may also be subject to further investigation or intelligence gathering to determine if the individual posed a continuing risk. A further 196 cases are to be subject to formal risk management measures and potentially a review of their vetting status to determine if they should remain in the force. From 1 April 2023, all cases were to be reassessed by an external oversight panel which included independent violence against women and girls expertise. The panel’s opinion will be sought on next steps for each case and could result in them being redesignated.
  • Launching a public-facing hotline in November 2022, asking for reports of MPS officers abusing their position of trust.
  • Investing more resource into the Directorate of Professional Standards. Sir Mark said in his first six months as commissioner there had been a 62% increase in the number of gross misconduct cases concluded, compared to the previous six months.

Responding to Sir Mark’s update, Mr Khan said that he welcomed the action and change “now taking place to significantly raise standards in the Met police”. He said he would continue to do everything he could to “empower” the commissioner, whilst also holding him to account to fix the “systematic failings” identified in the Casey review.

Further information on crime and misconduct within the MPS, and commitments made by the MPS and the government to improve standards, can be found in the House of Lords Library briefing ‘Crime and misconduct within the Metropolitan police’ (25 November 2022).

Cover image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay.