Home Office loses appeal bid over West Midlands policing powers merger ruling

The Home Office has lost a bid to appeal against a judge’s ruling that blocked plans to transfer policing powers in the West Midlands.

Lawyers for the Home Secretary argued a High Court judgment earlier this week was wrong to quash a decision to merge the role of the local police and crime commissioner (PCC) into the area’s elected mayor – a position held by Conservative Andy Street.

At a hearing at the Court of Appeal in London, judges said they refused to give the Government permission to appeal.

Lord Justice Dingemans, who heard the case alongside Lady Justice Nicola Davies and Lord Justice Lewis, said the ministers’ challenge “does not have a real prospect of success”.

Labour politician Simon Foster, the current West Midlands PCC, said the decision means an election for his role will be held on May 2.

On Monday, Mr Justice Swift concluded the Home Office had not provided sufficient information when consulting over the powers transfer plan.

The judge said information should have been included over the proposed positive impact on “economic, social and environmental well-being”, but what featured “falls well short of this mark”.

He added a claim that the consolidation of powers has “the potential to offer wider levers and a more joined-up approach to preventing crime” was “left entirely unexplained”.

His ruling came after Mr Foster took legal action against the department’s move to scrap his role in time for local elections in May.

West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner
Simon Foster, left, is the current West Midlands PCC (West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner/PA)

Mr Foster has labelled the merger plans a “hostile takeover” and “cynical power grab”, while the Government argues the consolidation of powers “offers a better scope for preventing crime”.

On Friday, Home Office lawyers argued that the High Court judge took an “incorrect” approach and had an “over-exacting understanding” of what a lawful consultation required.

Mr Foster’s legal team said the appeal bid should be dismissed and that Mr Justice Swift was “unarguably correct”.

Elected PCCs set their local police force’s budget, decide what crimes it should prioritise, can fire and hire the chief constable and aim to make sure they are accountable to the communities they serve.

Mr Justice Dingemans said appeal judges were unable to say Mr Justice Swift was “wrong… in setting out the steps for a lawful consultation in the particular circumstances of this case”.

He added: “The secretary of state did not give sufficient information to permit intelligent consideration and response, and this meant that the process was so unfair as to be unlawful.”

Mr Street wrote to Home Secretary James Cleverly in November requesting the powers transfer.

Mr Cleverly decided to approve the transfer, but officials later realised an “error” in the drafting of the law enabling the move meant a consultation was required.

The subsequent six-week consultation gathered 7,103 responses, with 50% disagreeing with the proposed transfer and 46% agreeing, the court was told.

Mr Foster said he had challenged the “11th-hour, last-minute, panic-driven public consultation” because he was “concerned that the transfer of PCC powers to a representative of the government would lead to more cuts, more chaos and more crime”.

He added: “I am pleased that the mayor’s cynical, divisive, unnecessary and undemocratic attempted hostile takeover of PCC powers has been defeated.

“I trust that we can now all concentrate on what matters most to the people of the West Midlands, which is ensuring that we prevent, tackle and reduce crime.”

A Government spokesperson said: “We are extremely disappointed by this outcome and firmly believe the join up of public safety functions under a combined authority mayor offers better opportunities for preventing crime. We remain committed to making PCC transfers to combined authority mayors wherever possible, including in the West Midlands in due course.”