Oct 24 2013
Police will have to abide by a new code of ethics similar to the hippocratic oath taken by doctors, the Home Secretary has said.
Speaking at the College of Policing this morning, Theresa May said it was "astonishing" that the guidelines were not already in place.
A national register of officers who have been sacked from the service will also be set up for the first time.
Mrs May said: "It's astonishing that the police have not had an explicit code of ethics, an equivalent if you like to the hippocratic oath for doctors.
"I think it will prove vital for establishing and maintaining fundamental ethical standards for police officers."
The College of Policing launched a consultation on the new code today, and it is expected to be published in the spring.
Her comments follow a series of events that have shaken confidence in the police, including the renewed inquiries into the Hillsborough disaster, revelations about undercover officers and rows surrounding "Plebgate".
Mrs May said that plans to expand the powers of watchdog the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), first announced in February, are on track and that it will take on additional cases next year.
The proposals were outlined as the watchdog took on a new investigation into the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster, the biggest ever probe into police misconduct in the UK.
The Home Secretary said: " I know that some forces and PCCs (police and crime commissioners) are resisting the transfer of resources necessary for the IPCC to take on this bigger role, but I want to say very clearly that the events of last year prove overwhelmingly the case for a beefed up IPCC, and that's what I'm determined to deliver."
Yesterday MPs grilled three police officers caught up in a row over a meeting with former chief whip Andrew Mitchell in October last year, following the "Plebgate" incident.
Police Federation representatives inspector Ken MacKaill, detective sergeant Stuart Hinton and sergeant Chris Jones initially claimed that Mr Mitchell had refused to tell them what he said during a foul-mouthed rant at officers in Downing Street the previous month.
But they were later accused of giving misleading statements and could now face disciplinary action.
Mrs May added: " Where the IPCC has needed new powers, for instance in its investigation of Hillsborough, we have legislated to provide them, and if the evidence of the past week shows we need to go further, we will do so."
The five-week consultation on a draft version of the code, which will ultimately apply to all police officers and staff, runs until November 29.
Chief Constable Alex Marshall, chief executive of the College of Policing, said: "The Code of Ethics is a first for policing in England and Wales. It is a national document reflecting the core principles and standards of behaviour that every member of the police service should strive to maintain.
"We do not want this to be 'just another document' for officers and staff to read. It must be one that is used to help people make professional decisions - to do the right thing in the right way.
"It encourages officers and staff to report improper conduct and never ignore unprofessional behaviour by a colleague."
In her speech at the College of Policing Conference at Bramshill in Hampshire, Mrs May said: "If the public start to believe that police officers are dishonest, or fall below the highest ethical standards, trust will be fatally undermined, and with it the police's capacity to operate with the consent and co-operation of the people."
As well as the Plebgate controversy, the move also follows concerns about police practice in the wake of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.
Mrs May said there would be a national register of struck-off officers to help address public concern about the integrity of the police.
Also in the speech she said a "beefed-up" police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), will start investigating more complaints from next year rather than the vast majority of complaints going back to the forces as happens now.
Mrs May said there was some public concern that police were investigating themselves and a strong and independent IPCC would counter this.
"I know that some forces and police and crime commissioners are resisting the transfer of resources necessary for the IPCC to take on this bigger role," she said.
"I want to say to them very clearly that the events of last year prove overwhelmingly the case for a beefed-up IPCC and that is what I'm determined to deliver.
"The expansion of the IPCC is on track and the IPCC will begin to take on additional cases from next year.
She added: "Where the IPCC has needed new powers, for instance in its investigation of Hillsborough, we have legislated to provide them."
Alluding to the Plebgate issue, Mrs May added: "And if the evidence of the past week shows that we need to go further, we will do so."
But the Home Secretary also praised officers.
"The police are there at the toughest moments of our lives," she said.
"Everyone recognises that the police are essential and that police officers are dedicated professionals of the highest order," she told the conference.
During a later question and answer session, Mrs May did not rule out regional police forces, if the idea has local support.
She said she wanted more collaboration between forces in England and Wales to create more effective policing and give better value for money.
She said that is the best way forward for forces because it offers better policing while keeping the distinct identity of forces.
"As far as I'm concerned if police forces at a local level want to come together, and they have local support and a business case for that, then we will look at that."