A recent decision of the Court of Session in Edinburgh (Petition of Iain J Latimer, Chief Constable, Northern Constabulary for judicial review of a decision of a Police Appeals Tribunal) has underlined the importance of tribunals giving adequate reasons for their decisions. It has also confirmed the willingness of the courts to intervene, particularly where defects in process have occurred.
The background was as follows. A police officer had been convicted of a drink driving offence and was as a result found to have been guilty of misconduct when the matter came before a professional disciplinary hearing, convened in terms of the Police (Conduct) (Scotland) Regulations 1996. The opinion of the panel was that the offence was of such gravity that the only appropriate penalty would be to require the officer's resignation from the force, as an alternative to dismissal. Considering the matter on appeal, this decision was upheld by the Chief Constable, before the matter came before the Police Appeals Tribunal, by way of further appeal. The Tribunal reached the view that, taking account of all of the particular circumstances of the case, the sanction imposed was unduly severe and determined by a majority to substitute a financial penalty.
The Chief Constable sought judicial review of the Tribunal's decision, arguing that the Tribunal had erred in law and, in particular, had failed to state proper and adequate reasons for its decision to impose a lesser sanction.
At judicial review, it was accepted that the relevant requirement was to give; "proper and adequate reasons for [the] decision which deal with the substantial questions in issue in an intelligible way. The decision must, in short, leave the informed reader and the court in no real and substantial doubt as to what the reasons for it were and what were the material considerations which were taken into account in reaching it".
Accepting that the arguments were finely balanced, Lord Emslie, hearing the case, nonetheless reached the opinion that he was, "unable to affirm the adequacy of the Tribunal's stated reasons on key aspects of this case". Sustaining the Chief Constable's petition, he reached the view that the Tribunal's decision left the informed reader and the court, "in real and substantial doubt as to the basis on which key conclusions were reached". The Tribunal's decision was as a consequence overturned and the case referred back to a freshly constituted Tribunal, for reconsideration.
The case is of wide interest and relevance in the context of professional disciplinary proceedings, whether or not they have a statutory footing. The following points in particular are noteworthy;-
- The willingness of the Court to intervene, exercising its supervisory jurisdiction in the form of judicial review, particularly where questions of proper process or fairness arise.
- That judicial review may be instigated not only at the instance of the individual Respondent, but also, as here, where the court is invited to overturn a decision which is perceived to be unduly lenient in a Respondent's favour.
- The importance for any tribunal that it gives proper and adequate reasons for its decision, noting the test approved by the Court in this case.