UPDATE: A new interim Digital Processing Notice will be introduced imminently. This new notice will reflect the Court of Appeal ruling in the case of Bater-James and Mohammed. We will work with the ICO and other stakeholders on a permanent notice and associated practice that will address the ICO’s recommendations in full.
Original post from January 2019.
Last week I chaired Chief Constables' Council for the sixteenth and last time. Over the last four years the breadth and depth of business has increased significantly. We have extended the length of the national meeting by half a day and have introduced a regional tier of meetings to obtain wider feedback and to make best use of our time together. Despite this, it is an enormous challenge to ensure that everyone has a chance to contribute and to get business done in the time available!
I’m not able to detail everything we covered but this blog covers some of the key issues – we also spent time on police air support, neighbourhood policing and our contact channels for the public. In addition to the presentations from chief officers, I invited several guests, including the new Director of Public Prosecutions at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), Max Hill QC. He talked to us about his early priorities – building public confidence in the CPS, getting disclosure right and ensuring fairness of trials. Several cases over the last few years have raised serious concerns about disclosure processes and there has been a significant joint response between the police and CPS. The national disclosure improvement plan launched last January by NPCC, College of Policing and CPS set out 42 changes and 40 have now been delivered.
Max rightly said there’s no such thing as a good investigation if the case file for the CPS is not up to standard, and a third of files are not currently meeting the standard when they are first presented. NPCC’s Lead for Criminal Justice, Chief Constable Nick Ephgrave, urged chiefs to keep the momentum up on file quality and disclosure showing leadership on the issues in their force. The second phase of the disclosure improvement plan will be published soon and trials of technology that can help us review the enormous volumes of digital data will be starting later this year.
One of the challenges caused by digital data is the need to share it across the criminal justice system securely and efficiently. Chief Constable Giles York has led the development of a Digital Evidence Transfer Service designed to link in with new systems across agencies. Chiefs agreed that five pilot schemes should continue but the delays to new technology in other parts of the criminal justice means that broader roll out needs to be reviewed after six months.
I was pleased that John Apter, Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, agreed to return to council. He last attended three years ago when he was promoting the Hampshire scheme to take assaults on police officers more seriously – a great initiative that was then adopted across the country. Last week he spoke passionately about his vision for the future and his desire to work with chiefs, which was warmly received.
Criminals are never slow to exploit the opportunities that new technology provides and so we need to develop new capabilities to catch them but also use technology to make policing more efficien
t and improve the service to the public. Police forces are relying on the Home Office to develop a new communications service for all emergency workers. Having studied the business case in detail we agreed reaffirmed the key requirements such as good coverage, the ability to communicate on the Underground, to communicate with air support and in crisis situations when there are huge levels of traffic across the network. As ever, there are concerns about the cost to police forces but there was agreement that safety and an effective system had to be prioritised. Only when all the concerns are met will chiefs be content to switch off the Airwave current system.
We reviewed the planning for the potential impact of EU exit on policing. We have established the International Crime Coordination Centre which will help forces to find alternatives to the range of EU tools, such as the European Arrest Warrant, that are currently used. The unit has recruited officers to act as single points of contact for each region and to assist forces to assess their readiness for a no deal. Chiefs were assured by the contingency planning but hoped that it would ultimately be unnecessary as the alternatives to EU tools are slower, more bureaucratic and ultimately less effective.
Chief Constable Charlie Hall is leading work to plan potential impact from delays at borders and ports, potential for protest and disorder, and civil contingencies. We have reviewed government planning assumptions and assessed the threat and risk of a range of possible scenarios, which will be kept under regular review. An intelligence unit will collect intelligence from across the country and we are planning, testing and exercising so we can respond quickly if the picture changes.
After working on proposals for several years, Chief Constable Francis Habgood led discussions on pay reform plans, which he will present to the Police Remuneration Review Body next month. Police officers do a tough job which can be dangerous, hours are often anti-social and regulations place significant restrictions on an individual’s private life. This needs to be reflected in the pay for officers. We also agreed that the approach to pay should over the longer term be reformed to move away from an emphasis on length of service to an emphasis on contribution and skill. The principles were agreed and when the submission to the Review Body is finalised it will be published. We are all keenly aware that, if these proposals are accepted, there will need to be very careful planning to ensure a smooth transition.
Lastly we had an excellent briefing from Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu on the current terrorist threat. The volume of intelligence leads and number investigations continue to be very high and the Government announcement of some additional funding to counter terrorism in the budget was very welcome.
Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt from the Metropolitan Police will chair the next Chief Constables' Council in April and he will do a great job. It is the hardest police meeting to chair but I would argue it is the most important. The British policing model is based on local forces but the need for them to work together effectively in the public interest had never been greater.