Lighting the blue touch paper

You are going to have to read this one to the end!

The Senior Presiding Judge for England and Wales has issued new guidance, which you can find on the APCCs website, following TopOfTheCops revelation of his previous decision to ban magistrates from lots of PCC-related activities, and the subsequent efforts of TopOfTheCops readers to negotiate changes.

The original report, which was quickly picked up by national news outlets, criticised the judge for the following directions:-

  • Requiring magistrates to resign from the bench on becoming a candidate.
  • Preventing magistrates from active participation in the election.
  • Preventing magistrates as members of the judiciary from meeting PCC candidates.
  • Banning magistrates from Police and Crime Panels

and so TopOfTheCops was the first to demand that the ruling be reconsidered, as reported by the Guardian.

That has now been done, and each of these decisions has been revoked. The implied point that an elected PCC could not be a magistrate has also been downgraded to a question that magistrates must ask themselves – “whether it is possible to hold office as a PCC and a magistrate”, with the prompt that “it is the firm view of the senior judiciary that the two roles are not compatible”. That’s not a direction though, which is quite a capitulation.

The PCC Candidates who have been meeting the judges are expressing their contentment with the final decision, being all nice about it, etc. But let’s face it, the initial direction was a major error by the judge, and needs to be seen in the context of other directions interfering with blogging and the use of social media by magistrates and, I am told, banning magistrates from Community Safety Partnerships. These directions are deeply flawed and should not have been made. They have weakened the position of the senior judiciary.

So, now that we have the climbdown, it is probably the time to tell you about the little bomb in the original post that has been ticking away unnoticed ever since. One word – “leafleting“.

Yes – TopOfTheCops reported “If they just want to participate actively, whatever that means (leafleting?), they should take a leave of absence.

This has worked its way into the judge’s new guidance:-

It is not practicable to give detailed guidance on what amounts to ‘active’ campaigning. Magistrates should use their common sense and judgements regarding this. (For example low-level activity, such as delivering leaflets is probably not within the description.)

Now, transport yourself into another profession whose activity is routinely politically-restricted, such as certain local government officers or Police Authority Staff. Who can now tell them that low-level political activity, such as leafleting, is not OK?

And what about cops? This doesn’t apply perfectly to cops, due to the operation of specific election law that makes it a criminal offence for a police officer to encourage anyone to vote in an election (see s.60 here). But what about the distribution of information which does not encourage people to vote or not? What about material outside the limited formal election period (which we are not yet in)? Can cops leaflet in those circumstances? Does this guidance not have the potential to undermine the other restrictions on officers’ political activity, by categorising some activities as not sufficiently active to count, and thereby providing a ready defence from the country’s most senior judge for low-level political activity?

I realise that the judge’s guidance does not have the status of a ruling on the precise terms of a statute, but that doesn’t stop it from having persuasive force, and opening a can of worms in the process. Cops will want to know why when they are off-duty they should be any less free than a magistrate on a leave of absence. The full ramifications are beyond my legal knowledge to describe in detail, so I’ll content myself with raising the questions.

I shall now retreat to a safe distance.

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6 Responses to Lighting the blue touch paper

  1. Sam C – a brilliant piece of work – congratulations. You rightly focus on other public sector volunteers and paid officers alike who must surely feel unfairly circumscribed by the legislation.

    In an age where apathy and cynicism is rampant, it is sad and wrong to deliberately deprive the democratic process of people who wish to participate. There have to be SOME checks, but in the obsession with the separation of public offfice and politics we are pitching the baby out with the bathwater.

    Britain may be spent up, but this is one of many cost-free areas of policy that could be re-visited by HMG and help make our country a fairer place.

  2. Sauce for the Goose says:

    Shambles warning on police election

    Press Association, Saturday August 18 2012

    Fewer than one in five voters are expected to turn out for the November 15 ballot, according to the Electoral Reform Society.

    It warned the possibility of just 18.5% of eligible adults taking part could give an unfair advantage to extremist candidates who would otherwise have little chance of success.

    Katie Ghose, Electoral Reform Society chief executive, said: “This election is beginning to look like a perfect storm, which could result in the lowest turnout for a national election in British history.

    “Those pulling the strings have not done their homework and as a result this election looks primed to degenerate into a complete shambles. Put simply, if the people elected to localise decision-making over how our streets are policed, do not represent local people, what is the point of having them?”

    • Ken Little says:

      It’s Called Democracy a Democratic process It’s not a fair process, {see my thoughts earlier on that} or thought through sensibly but what Government ever does?

  3. Sceptical of PCC's says:

    Ken Little really is a poster boy for the concept of PCC’s

  4. Ken Little says:

    Sceptical… My reply… REALLY?

    IS that your contribution to the debate? Aren’t YOU my Poster “paste” person?

    Who are you? I need to paste some more posters!

  5. Ken Little says:

    Whoareyou – 2 hours ago… POLICE ORACLE.

    I agree with what Mr Gibbs stated…look at all the comments about me and the PCC election!!! No publicity is bad publicity keep it coming!

    Of course a PCC is a good idea…IF the PCC is unafraid of all and any criticism He/She makes of the police about poor accountability, procedures, complaints, the list goes on…a grand inquisitor is not a bad idea, its only a bad idea if you are not doing good at your job…we know who we are talking about dont we?

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