The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) has welcomed more public debate about creating a mechanism to “recall” an elected commissioner in the event that they are unable to carry out their duties, or where there is a significant breakdown in public trust.
Police and Crime Commissioners are elected by the public to oversee policing in their regions for a period of four years. At present, legislation only allows for a term of office to be terminated prior to the next election period in very limited circumstances, and there is no provision for termination in other serious circumstances – for example where a Commissioner has lost the trust of the public.
This issue came to the fore following the publication of the Jay Report into historical child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, and the subsequent Home Affairs Select Committee enquiry. The enquiry involved Shaun Wright, previously Rotherham Council’s cabinet member for children and young people, and subsequently the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire. During the enquiry there were calls for Mr Wright to resign, and it became apparent that there was no mechanism in law to enact this.
Now, the Home Affairs Select Committee has issued a report, which includes a draft bill to make provision about the recall of Police and Crime Commissioners. The report is expected to be published on 18 October.
In recent months, the APCC has been working on a set of proposals on how a “power of recall” might be implemented, and what would trigger it. The issue is also to be debated at the APCC national meeting on 18 November, with a view to finalizing and submitting the proposals in a report to the Home Secretary before Christmas.
Speaking on behalf of the APCC, Julia Mulligan, the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire and Chair of the APCC Transparency Steering Group, said:
“We welcome the thought that has gone into the Home Affairs Select Committee report, and the fact that it is supportive of PCCs in principle. Public confidence in elected officials is extremely important, and having a means of redress when serious problems occur is a part of maintaining public trust. We are already drawing up proposals, and more public debate on the issue can only be helpful.
“One issue that we really need to get right is what would trigger the recall of a Commissioner’s powers. Commissioners are elected by the public, so it seems sensible that the public should be involved in any decision to recall if that is necessary. However these are things that we will be discussing in November.
Nick Alston, Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex, and national Chair of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, said: “Recent events in Rotherham showed how important it is that the public have confidence in the criminal justice and social care agencies whose job it is to protect people from harm. Police and Crime Commissioners have a crucial role to play: in scrutinising Chief Constables and the performance of police forces on a local level; in supporting and representing victims, and in driving effective partnership working.
“Across the country, PCCs are fulfilling that role effectively and innovatively. But where victims have been failed, where police forces are not being held effectively to account, and where public trust is destroyed, it is clearly right that ultimately there should be mechanisms for removing a PCC in the most exceptional circumstances.
“PCCs are elected public servants, so there should be proper checks and balances around any specific Power of Recall. For example, a simple vote of no confidence by a Police and Crime Panel could prove susceptible to local party political manoeuvring against the democratic will of the people. But I welcome the important debate about whether there should be a Power of Recall for PCCs. The APCC will shortly be putting forward some specific proposals of our own.”