The Independent View: FairCopUK – a new campaign for police honesty

FairCopUK is a new campaign for the UK police to be required to be honest when explaining what your rights are and what powers they have. I was inspired to set up the campaign by Richard Taylor’s suggestion that the police should not be allowed to lie or mislead without justification.

Almost everyone would agree that people stopped by the police or in police custody should have certain rights and, of course, UK law already reflects this. These rights are however substantially undermined if the person in question does not know what their rights are and the police are allowed to mislead them about their rights.

I have never been arrested, and don’t intend to be, but I imagine it is a very intimidating experience. Police Officers are authority figures so it is relatively easy for them to convince people that they have no choice but to do as they are told. The potential for the police to misuse their powers could range from something relatively small such as “Now I’ve spoken to you, I have to take your name and address” to something much more serious such as “You have to answer this question or you will be prosecuted for wasting police time”.

If people, other than legal experts, are to have any meaningful rights at all when dealing with the police then they also have the right not to be misled about what their rights are. FairCopUK wants a change to the PACE codes that govern police conduct to say that officers must not mislead people about police powers or the rights people have during stops, ‘stop and account’, searches and interviews.

When the Police lie, it doesn’t just impact on people’s ability to understand and exercise their rights; it also undermines public confidence in policing and in the criminal justice system as a whole. That said, it is really important that the Police are allowed to lie in certain situations otherwise undercover operations wouldn’t last very long (just imagine it “What are you doing here?” “OK, you got me”).

FairCopUK wants the rules to be changed so that formal authorisation by a senior officer is required for decisions to actively lie to or mislead people. We also want those authorisations that are granted to be subsequently subjected to public scrutiny and debate.

Undercover operations are absolutely vital for good policing but on occasions it can go too far (as was seen in the cases involving Mark Kennedy and environmental activists). At present the police need a warrant to spend 60 minutes searching a business premises but not for a 6 month long undercover infiltration of political group. The law at present has got the balance wrong. FairCopUK wants the law changed to require court warrants to approve certain very serious long term lying, for example that associated with undercover operations, to ensure the fair and proportionate use of police powers. We have no reason to believe that judges would not approve reasonable undercover operations but the involvement of the judiciary would be a very welcome safeguard.

Changing the rules by which the Police are required to operate will never be enough if this not accompanied by a change in culture. FairCopUK will be asking Police and Crime Commissioners and Senior Police Officers to make it clear the police should not routinely intentionally mislead people. We are not against the Police and we are not even saying that the Police should never be allowed to lie. All as we are asking is that the Police are not allowed to mislead people without any justification whatsoever.

The FairCopUK campaign is in its very early stages but if you would like to show your support please follow us on twitter: @faircopuk and/or write to your MP about the issues raised above in your own words.

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This entry was posted in The Independent View.
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