Informa Markets

Author Bio ▼

Safety and Health Practitioner (SHP) is first for independent health and safety news.
June 10, 2011

Get the SHP newsletter

Daily health and safety news, job alerts and resources

Police health and safety exemption proposal scrapped

The Police service should not be released from the duties laid down in the HSWA 1974, the House of Lords has concluded.

A proposed amendment to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, which would have repealed parts of the Police (Health and Safety) Act 1997 and, in doing so, effectively removed the statutory protection afforded police officers by the HSWA, was withdrawn during a debate yesterday in the House of Lords.

Instead, the Government promised to look at whether more discussions are needed between the Force, the Home Office, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the HSE as to whether the necessary balance has been struck in protecting both police officers and the public.

Introducing his proposal, Lord Blencathra, who was Police minister at the time of the 1997 Act’s passing, told the House that he needed to correct the “mistake” he made in allowing it to become law. He explained that the Bill entered on to the statute book despite receiving “a total of 64 minutes’ scrutiny in both Houses of Parliament”, owing to the “frantic legislative climate at the end of 1996-97, heading up to the election”.

He also apologised to former Metropolitan Police commissioners, Lord Condon and Lord Stevens, who were cleared of health and safety offences in 2003 after a police officer died while pursuing a criminal over a rooftop. Commenting on the case, he said: “That prosecution was outrageous, wrong, misguided, expensive, and so lacking in common sense that it convinces me that one cannot leave a provision on the statute book which can be abused by bureaucrats – admittedly, well-meaning bureaucrats. It should be amended.”

The peer also pointed out that Lord Young’s report on tackling the compensation culture had recommended that the HSE, Crown Prosecution Service and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) should consider further guidance to ensure that police officers are not put at risk of investigation, or prosecution under health and safety legislation if they have put themselves at risk by acting in an heroic way in the course of their duties.

But he questioned: “What signal does it send if a cosy deal has been done between the CPS, ACPO and the HSE not to prosecute police officers? No, the approach must be: if we do not want to see police officers in the dock and being prosecuted for that sort of breach, we must amend the current law, which allows it to happen.”

In reply, Lord Condon said if the prosecution had succeeded, it would have effectively “paralysed” the Force. “In essence,” he explained, “the prosecution was saying that police officers operating above ground or below ground, or in any environment apart from flat, ground-level operations, would need to be involved in risk assessments, contractors and a whole range of issues, which would have emasculated operational policing. Fortunately, the jury in the trial applied the common sense so sadly lacking in the HSE at the time.”

But, opposing the proposal, he also stressed that “events have moved on, and I do not think it is appropriate for the Police service, or parts of it, to be exempted from the legislation en bloc. The world has changed; events have changed; the climate has changed.”

Echoing Lord Condon’s views concerning their trial, Lord Stevens suggested that the 1997 Act should nevertheless be re-examined. “I would like us to look at it in a common-sense way, taking police officers’ views into account,” said the peer. “Of course, they need to be protected and must not be prosecuted, or sued in a way that exposes them. However, why not go back to the [original] Bill, have a look at the original health and safety legislation, and take in the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Young, and the details and accounts that have been put forward in the debate that has taken place in this House?”

Quoting directly from IOSH’s briefing on the impact the amendment could have, former health and safety minister, Lord McKenzie of Luton, warned the repeal of the 1997 Act “would be a seriously retrograde step”. He highlighted recent CPS guidance, which stated that police officers who have breached s7 of the HSWA in performing an heroic act should not generally be prosecuted, and said an explanatory note to the HSE’s 2009 guidance, Striking the balance between operational and health and safety duties in the Police Service, was being drafted to clarify the situation further.

He concluded: “The law, as it stands, serves both the public and Police effectively. It is certain interpretations of the law that have produced isolated anomalies. Therefore, clarity of interpretation is needed rather than the unnecessary changes to health and safety law that could turn the clock back decades on the protection afforded to society.”

On behalf of the Government, Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Lord Blencathra to withdraw his amendment, and vowed to consider the extent to which Lord Young’s recommendations on the Police Service have been met by the CPS guidance. He added: “We will institute a dialogue, if it is needed, between the Police, the Home Office, the DWP and the HSE, as suggested. We recognise that this has to be a question of balance and we will assess whether the balance has now been struck in the most sensible place.”

• According to a report today on the Daily Mail’s website, the health and safety manager for Greater Manchester Police, Marie Parkinson, told officers at a recent meeting of the Authority’s people and development committee to weigh up the risks before chasing criminals.

Related Topics

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments