David Howarth (MP for Cambridge),
In April 2008 the police in Cambridge decided to abolish the stop and account / encounter form. I am writing to you now as I have today received confirmation from Detective Superintendent Jeff Hill of Cambridgeshire police that in abolishing the stop and account form in Cambridge the police have decided to ignore PACE code A. 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 which will 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.
I am quite frightened by my local police ignoring the PACE codes which ought to act as a safeguard to ensure they follow the law when they deal with the public.
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 the 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 support the abolition of the “Stop and Account” form, as well as wasting police time, I think it over-formalises trivial encounters with the police, creates unnecessary entries for people in force intelligence databases and generally winds people up. I disagree with the way in which it has been abolished in Cambridge. In London Boris Johnston wants to abolish the form, he is going about it the right way and lobbying the government for a change in “the law” (The PACE codes), in Cambridge the police have acted in contravention of the PACE codes which are approved by both houses of parliament. I find the police ignoring the will of parliament in this way very worrying, and am concerned that we could be standing at the top of a slippery slope.
Suggestions for Action:
- Reply to me letting me know if you;
- Agree it is vitally important that the police in the UK are under democratic control.
- Agree that the PACE codes are a vital part of the framework which ensures people are dealt with properly and legally by the police and should be followed by all police forces.
- Seek to bring in a law stating that the PACE codes must be complied with, making the status of the PACE codes clear.
- Write to Cambridgeshire Police, enclosing my email, expressing concern that they are ignoring PACE code A; suggesting that they prioritise maintaining good police-public relations.
- Write to the Home Office expressing concern that the PACE code A is being ignored by the police. I have written to the Home Office (firstname.lastname@example.org) twice, on the 20th of April, and 7th July on the subject of Stop and Account and have not received a reply.
- Write to the Cambridgeshire Police Authority asking them to investigate how this trial came about, expressing concern about the non-compliance with the PACE codes and asking them to ensure they are involved in interpreting the results of the trial and getting those results collated with those of the official Home Office trials so they are used to inform the national debate on the Stop and Account procedure.
I would prefer a reply by email.