A recent UK Court of Appeal case (Squire v CC of Thames Valley Police & P.A.T [2016] EWCA Civ 1315) has re-emphasised that uncorroborated hearsay evidence can be admissible in disciplinary proceedings.

Background and disciplinary proceedings

A complaint of inappropriate and sexually motivated conduct was made by a colleague against Mr Squire, the appellant police officer.

At a hearing before an internal disciplinary panel in May 2014, a detective constable, DC Payne gave evidence that other police officers had relayed concerns to him about inappropriate conduct on the part of the appellant. While those other officers were to be called, their statements did not refer to any such concerns. The panel admitted DC Payne’s hearsay evidence and found the appellant guilty of gross misconduct and directed he be dismissed.

Police Appeals Tribunal (PAT)

The PAT subsequently heard the appellant’s appeal and found that DC Payne’s hearsay evidence was inadmissible and had led to an element of unconscious bias on the part of the disciplinary panel. The PAT allowed the appeal and the Chief Constable successfully challenged the PAT’s decision in the High Court.

High Court

In quashing the PAT’s decision, Judge Mitting in the High Court found that the disciplinary panel’s “clearly stated and well-reasoned” finding plainly stated it had discounted most of the hearsay evidence when evaluating the merits of the case. The High Court also remitted the finding on sanction to the PAT.

Court of Appeal

The appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal and the Chief Constable cross-appealed challenging the High Court’s decision to remit the finding on sanction to the PAT.

In upholding the decision of the High Court, the Court of Appeal pointed out that it was common ground that the panel was entitled to admit hearsay evidence and that the introduction of the hearsay evidence was not procedurally unfair. The Court rejected the PAT’s conclusion that the panel had been biased.

In dismissing the cross-appeal on sanction, the Court did not accept the Chief Constable’s submission that there should be no remittal as the inevitable sanction was dismissal.

In relation to the disciplinary panel’s case management, the Court of Appeal said though the wiser course would have been a different order of witnesses, that the panel proceeded as it did does not impugn its ultimate analysis of the hearsay issue”.

Conclusion

In Ireland, the case law shows that inquiry committees or disciplinary panels, in certain circumstances, can depart from the rules of evidence, but such departure must be in accordance with their statutory powers and must observe fair procedure.

While this UK decision is not binding on Irish courts, it is likely to have persuasive authority in considering similar issues of hearsay evidence in professional disciplinary proceedings. The judgment can be found here.