I have today received the below response to some of my questions relating to the operation of stop and account / encounter procedures in Cambridge.
The officer in charge of stop and account in Cambridgeshire has confirmed in the email reproduced below that Cambridgeshire Police are ignoring PACE Code A with respect to the procedure they use when stopping people and asking them to account for their actions or presence in an area. I am grateful to him for putting this in writing as it will enable me to raise this with my MP, councillors, the press, and members of the police authority. The PACE codes may be called “codes of practice”, but they are produced by ministers and following a statutory consultation process they are approved of both houses of parliament. It concerns me greatly when the police are ignoring the government and the will of parliament.
The PACE codes lay down the procedures which the police must (in my opinion) follow during various interactions with the public, for example stop and account, stop and search, searching of premises, and when detaining and questioning people. Failure to follow these procedures will in my view damage the relationship between the police and the public, and reduce the police’s effectiveness in fighting crime as well as creating an unpleasant country in which to live where the police are not under democratic control.
The Home Office webpage on PACE states:
The Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) and the PACE Codes of Practice provide the core framework of police powers and safeguards around stop and search, arrest, detention, investigation, identification and interviewing detainees.
If compliance with the PACE codes was to become voluntary, and police officers were to become free to ignore them at will then an important part of that framework providing safeguards for the public during their interactions with the police would be lost. Personally I think it is already very obvious that following the PACE codes is not optional, and all police forces should abide by them. However following my experience with Cambridgeshire police it might be worth increasing the weight they carry by amending the PACE or Police Acts to explicitly state that the PACE codes must be complied with.
Professor Michael Zander QC, Emeritus Professor of Law at the LSE and described as an authority on PACE has discussed the problem of compliance with “codes of practice” being considered voluntary:
If this [considering compliance voluntary] were applied in the case of the PACE Codes it would be left to individual police officers of whatever rank to decide whether there were cogent reasons for not following the provisions of the Code. What are now regarded by everyone as rules that must be followed would become something less than rules which might or might not be followed. To say that this would be an unhelpful development is a considerable understatement. (Michael Zander’s Response to a Home Office Consultation on PACE – May 23 2007)
This unhelpful development has now occurred in Cambridgeshire, as evidenced by and admitted in the below email, I think the police authority or parliament now have to take action:
Dear Mr Taylor,
I have recently spoken to Mr John Fuller, Southern Division’s Community Engagement Manager, who has advised me that you still have some queries in relation to the Constabularies current ‘Stop and Encounter Procedures’. I thought it might be helpful to write to you again in an effort to comment on some of the points you raise.
Stop and Account Procedures – Compliance with the Law
Stop and Account is governed by Code A of the Codes of Practice associated with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. These Codes of Practice are not primary legislation but guidance associated with the Act. Whilst as a Constabulary we will always seek to apply Codes of Practice where they exist, there is a need to move away from the guidance on this occasion to enable the trial of a process which may secure benefits to both the public and police alike. We are concerned that the lengthy process of form completion following an encounter is an additional delay to the subject of the stop which is often unwelcome. The completion of the form is also a bureaucratic process that takes up Officer time. We therefore want to explore if there is a better way of administering the process such that a more ‘citizen focussed’ approach can be introduced. This analysis of this initiative will provide us with the information we require to make informed decisions for the future.
Whilst we are not one of the pilot sites identified following ‘The Flanagan Review’, the Home Office are fully aware of our initiative and will be provided with the results once known.
As stated in my initial e-mail to you, ‘Stop and Encounter’ records are retained in line with the guidance provided by MOPI. In real terms this means that if no criminal offence is connected to the stop then the records are initially retained for 6 years. It is important to note that this initial retention period also applies to any information coming into the possession of the police, for example witness or victim details etc. If a crime is connected to the stop then the records are categorised according to the seriousness of the offence. The retention periods before subsequent reviews then increase to 10 years and where the most serious of offences are concerned the record will be retained until the individual is 100 years of age. These principles have not been developed by Cambridgeshire Constabulary but are a national standard.
Applying Stop and Account
I am told that you are concerned that some officers are stopping young people purely because they are wearing gloves and hats. Whilst I am unable to comment on specific cases it must be acknowledged that the application of many police powers are discretionary and are often influenced by a range of factors. Clearly if individuals are stopped solely for the reasons you have stated then this would be inappropriate, however these decisions are personal and are made in consideration of all of the prevailing circumstances. It might be appropriate for example to stop someone wearing gloves if it was a very hot day and they were seen to try and avoid police in a known high crime area.
Whilst I am sure that this will not answer all of your concerns, I do hope that it provides at least some background information to help you better understand the rationale behind some of the processes that exist in this area of policing.
Jeff Hill, Detective Superintendent
On the subject of the length of time records are kept, the above description of practice is just yet an another answer to a simple question to add to my collection.
Unanswered questions include: “When will the trial in Cambridgeshire finish?”, “What happens when the trial finishes, will the forms return?, “Who will review the success of the trial?”