The Met Commissioner has demanded an overhaul of the way police officers are treated by the justice system amid a growing row over the decision to charge a firearms specialist with murder.
Sir Mark Rowley called for better legal protection for officers who used force while on duty and said there must be more clarity about their right to defend themselves.
He also criticised the pace of the justice system, saying that even when officers followed their training and tactics they could still end up facing years of protracted legal proceedings.
His comments came in a letter to Suella Braverman, who on Sunday voiced her support for armed officers saying they must not fear “ending up in the dock”.
The Home Secretary said she had launched an official review days after an armed policeman was charged with murdering Chris Kaba, a 23-year-old black man, who was shot dead while driving through south London in November 2022.
Thrown into turmoil
The Met has been thrown into turmoil after hundreds of authorised firearms officers laid down their weapons in protest at the decision by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to charge the officer.
In a letter from Sir Mark to Ms Braverman, he said: “Accountability matters, but we should not have allowed ourselves to develop a system where police officers get investigated for safely pursuing suspects, just because the suspect acts recklessly and as a result injures themselves or someone else.”
He added: “Armed officers know they need to justify their actions, especially when lethal force is used. They are extremely well-trained and an intrinsic part of their training reinforces that shots can only be fired if absolutely necessary to save life.”
Sir Mark said that he would like the review to consider changes to regulations or primary legislation, such as an amendment to ensure the application of the “subjective criminal law test for self-defence in police misconduct, not the objective civil test”.
It is thought this would mean officers might find it easier to claim they killed someone in self-defence if they were prosecuted having used force in the line of duty.
“One simple test will avoid delay, simplify the process and provide better protection for the public service,” he added.
Sir Mark said he also wanted the review to consider legal changes so that a criminal standard of proof for unlawful killing, known as “beyond reasonable doubt”, was introduced in inquests and inquiries, where the burden of proof is normally “on the balance of probabilities”.
“This will avoid the confusion caused when different conclusions are reached in criminal and coronial cases,” he added.
Sir Mark said that a review should consider “changes to the threshold at which the IOPC [Independent Office for Police Conduct] can launch criminal or misconduct investigations” adding that too often investigations were announced when only a “minimal interrogation of the facts” had taken place, which damaged public confidence.
“The IOPC should not be able to launch such investigations based only on a mere ‘indication’ of an offence or wrongdoing. It would be more sensible for the threshold to be a ‘reasonable suspicion’ as in most other cases of criminal law.”
He suggested officials should look into the “introduction of time limits for the IOPC and CPS in order to reduce the punitive impact on officers of lengthy investigatory and legal processes and ensure the public see rapid resolutions where wrongdoing has occurred”.
Sir Mark raised the case of two officers who fired shots at a serious criminal who was part of a dangerous gang responsible for armed robberies across London. After waiting for two years to be charged, and another year on bail, they were cleared when the CPS offered no evidence, accepting that there was no realistic prospect of conviction.
Speaking before Sir Mark’s letter, Mrs Braverman tweeted: “We depend on our brave firearms officers to protect us from the most dangerous and violent in society.
“In the interest of public safety they have to make split-second decisions under extraordinary pressures.
“They mustn’t fear ending up in the dock for carrying out their duties. Officers risking their lives to keep us safe have my full backing and I will do everything in my power to support them.”
They mustn’t fear ending up in the dock for carrying out their duties.
Officers risking their lives to keep us safe have my full backing & I will do everything in my power to support them. 2/3
— Suella Braverman MP (@SuellaBraverman) September 24, 2023
Chief Constable Andy Marsh, CEO of the College of Policing, backed the review, saying: “Police officers undertake a job like no other and many will face risks every day that most people will never experience in their lifetime.”
He added: “It is vital we fully understand how the system that holds officers accountable for their actions can also acknowledge the significant additional risks they face.
“No officer should ever be above the law or have to face unnecessary burdens because of a lack of legal clarity.”
Former firearms officers have spoken out to say they support those who have walked out and would have joined them.
Speaking to BBC’s The World This Weekend, Harry Tangye, a former firearms officer, said: “I was on armed response for 23 years. I was on VIP protection with all the royalty and the government officials. Would I put my weapon down today? Yes I would hand it in. It’s not worth it.”
He added: “Every police officer, I can assure you, with a gun, hopes every day they put on that uniform and put the gun in their holster that it’s not them who has to shoot. Any police officer out there now, if they delay in shooting when they feel that someone’s life is at risk, be it their own, be it another officer or be it a civilian, they’re going to think twice and somebody is going to get badly hurt.”