Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Sir, Can I Please Blow My Nose?

These days police officers can't blow their noses without authority from an inspector or chief inspector. The micromanagement continues and the Metropolitan Police senior officers go on rewriting the rules as if they think the law doesn't apply to them.

They're like bonobos in a cage - throwing their excrement at one another.

There's currently a serious problem with the decision to grant bail to a suspect. Let me explain.

After a person has been arrested and interviewed she will probably enjoy a custody meal – perhaps a delicious gluten-free chicken korma or a low salt all-day breakfast, usually accompanied by a cup of tea containing three or four spoonfuls of sugar.

Then, one of several things will happen. If there is outstanding evidence to be collected (CCTV, statements, phone records, bird entrails consulted), the suspect should normally be released on police bail. This means that she is given a date to return to the police station three or four weeks in the future, during which time the investigator will have hopefully obtained all the remaining evidence.

After the interview the custody sergeant can decide to keep the suspect in custody during the rest of the investigation. The sergeant has to believe there's good reason, for example, that the suspect has a history of threatening witnesses.

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) and the Bail Act designate the custody officer (usually a sergeant) as the person who makes this decision. Not the inspector, not even the Commissioner on a day when he's eaten three shredded wheat can overrule the custody sergeant.

If the suspect is bailed and there's still outstanding evidence when the suspect returns, she can be bailed again. ('Rebailed').

This bail/remand decision used to lie within the auspice of the custody sergeant – the officer who meets every prisoner, evaluates her welfare issues and learns the nature of the criminal allegation.

Since a few months ago however, senior officers have decided to ignore the Bail Act and PACE.

The bonobos in the board rooms of New Scotland Yard took it upon themselves to decide that a suspect cannot now be bailed without an inspector's authority.

Seriously do these dudes just make it up as they go along?

This is unlawful because it's contrary to PACE and the Bail Act. Bail/no-bail is a decision for the custody officer only. Keeping a person in custody cannot be legally justified if the custody officer has made the decision to bail.

It's also completely impractical. During a night shift it might be impossible to find an inspector. They are very busy people and not usually very approachable. Running around trying to find an inspector is one more hoop to leap through, in addition to the hundred an officer already has.

And if evidence that might take weeks to collect is outstanding, and there is no clear justification for keep the person locked up, shouldn't the prisoner be released? It's ethical and it's what the law tells us to do.

Charging someone quickly is thought to be good for the performance figures and the bonobos believe that the only way to achieve this is by making it difficult for officers to grant bail.

Instead of creating resistance, they could have decided to make it easier to charge prisoners – to actually assist constables by providing resources: perhaps detectives to help uniformed officers with their investigations.

But no. As usual the carrot wasn't offered. It's all about the stick.

This isn't the first time that Met police bosses officers have created unlawful policy. For example they are still trying to pressure constables to arrest at domestics, insisting that we MUST arrest because there is a 'positive arrest policy'.

There is no such thing and there never has been. The original ACPO policy was for 'positive action', i.e. separating the two parties. 'Positive arrest' and 'positive action' - similar wordings. The bonobos believe that if they say it quickly enough the constables won't notice the difference.

So, back to bail and this policy of pressuring constables to charge. Suspects are now being charged in a panic before the investigating officer has obtained all the evidence and concluded his investigation.

The problem here is that (1) suspects are being tried in court without all the evidence available, (2) some of that evidence might exonerate the suspect, and (3) again this is unlawful.

PACE states that charging (or issuing a ticket, caution or unconditional release) must take place AFTER all the evidence has been gathered and considered.

Ahh, the obsession with centralising control.

It's only a matter of time until this bail policy is the subject of a civil court case against the Met. I look forward to that.