As the dust settles on the elections, newly elected or re-elected PCCs minds will no doubt immediately turn to the important decisions to be made over the coming weeks and months, such as setting the police budget and publishing a police and crime plan setting out their vision and priorities for policing. PCCs will want to start implementing the promises and pledges that formed the basis of their election campaigns.
It is important to keep in mind at this time that so many aspects of the work of PCCs are set out in legislation and subject to legal process. The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner ("OPCC") will play a key role in reminding PCCs of the statutory obligations and other legal considerations associated with decisions to be made over the next few months.
One such decision likely to be high on the PCC's agenda will be the appointment of a Deputy PCC. Some re-elected PCCs may wish to reappoint their former deputy. Some newly appointed PCCs may have given election pledges as to their deputy. However, whilst the Deputy role does not have to be advertised, it is not as simple as appointing the man or woman the PCC wants for the job.
Under Section 18(1) of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 ("PRSRA") each PCC may appoint a Deputy PCC and may arrange for them to perform many of the functions of the PCC. This is done under a scheme of delegations. There are however numerous restrictions on who can be appointed as a Deputy PCC (set out at S.18(6) and in Schedule 1, paragraph 8). The most relevant of these is perhaps the restriction on any constable, special constable and anyone employed by the police or member of staff of a PCC being appointed as deputy. There are also a number of requirements and potential disqualifications relating to citizenship, bankruptcy, criminal convictions and corrupt or illegal election practices. Deputies must be 18 or older.
It will be important for the OPCC to ensure that any potential candidate for Deputy PCC does not fall under any of the restrictions set out in the PRSRA.
Once a potential candidate has been identified, a PCC must then notify his or her Police and Crime Panel ("PCP") of the proposed appointment, providing the name of the person who he or she is proposing to appoint, the criteria used to assess the candidate's suitability; why the candidate satisfies those criteria; and the terms and conditions on which the candidate is to be appointed.
The PCP must then review the proposed appointment and hold a confirmation hearing – a meeting of the panel, held in public where the candidate is to appear and answer questions, before providing a report to the PCC within three weeks of the notification, with its recommendation as to whether or not the candidate should be appointed. This report will be published. Despite the formal process the PCC may at the end of the day accept or reject the PCP's recommendation as to their Deputy but must notify the PCP of his or her decision and might expect to have to justify the decision publicly given the PCP recommendation will be made public.
PCCs may also not be aware that the PCP must be notified of other senior appointments, namely the Chief Finance Officer and the Chief Executive as set out in paragraph 9 of Schedule 1 of the PRSRA.
The appointments of other members of the PCC staff, including the appointment of an Assistant PCC (which is not a statutory role unlike the Deputy PCC), are not subject to the same statutory requirements under the PRSRA. However, the PCC should note that all members of its staff are politically restricted and as such an Assistant PCC cannot be an elected local authority member.
There are some key fundamental principles that can be drawn from the process of making deputy and staff appointments that are applicable to the many decisions that a PCC will be making in the coming weeks and over the course of his or her term:
- There is a formal legal structure that applies to much of the PCC's work – a PCC may have made various pledges in the course of his or her election campaign that they will be keen to fulfil once in post. In supporting a PCC in doing so, it will be important to ensure that all legal requirements are understood and complied with.
- It is sometimes better to wait before making public announcements – Whilst PCCs will have a desire to engage with the public right from the outset, it may be better to avoid making public announcements on such key matters until it is certain that all the requirements of the legislation have been met. Similarly in respect of public announcements, it is vital that a PCC understands the extent of their role and the matters for which they are the decision-maker before expressing opinions publicly on matters affecting their police force. They should ensure that they do not make, or have not made, public announcements that could be construed as having prejudged a matter upon which they are deciding e.g. on matters relating to the conduct of the Chief Constable.
- There is often an obligation to give reasons for decisions – as demonstrated above by the requirement for a PCC to provide reasons to the PCP for proposing a particular candidate for Deputy PCC, a PCC is often required to justify the decisions he or she makes. Even if there is no express requirement in the legislation, there can be a public law expectation to provide reasons. It will be important for the OPCC to ensure that a robust decision making framework is in place.
- Demonstrate commitment to the standards of public life – Newly elected PCCs in particular may be unfamiliar with the ethical standards expected of public office holders. The seven principles of public life require that a PCC must act solely in terms of the public interest, with integrity and objectivity, must be accountable to the public for their decisions and actions, should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner, should be truthful, and should ensure that their staff follow these principles.
PCCs operate in a high profile environment, often subject to intense public scrutiny and debate. Keeping the above principles in mind when making decisions should allow a PCC to have confidence in the decisions they make and will assist in avoiding or minimising the risk of legal challenge.