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011/2015: Formal support and explanation from the Police and Crime Commissioner regarding the funding of ongoing civil litigation action to protect officers and members of the public against alleged personal harassment. – 29 September 2015

Executive Summary and Recommendation

The Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) is ultimately responsible for representing the public in all matters, as well as overseeing  the policing budget to ensure good value for money for the taxpayer.  This Decision Notice will demonstrate that the PCC is holding the Chief Constable to account by monitoring the financial support of a specific case which is currently a matter of ongoing civil proceedings.  The PCC is satisfied that supporting the action by individuals is a lawful and proportionate use of public money and is in line with her priority of supporting victims and ensuring an efficient and effective police service. This Decision Notice will explain the scrutiny process.

Given the legal matter is ongoing, not all details of the case can be published at this time.

In order to be as open and transparent as possible, the PCC publishes all Decision Notices so they are available to the press and the public.  This happens whenever a decision is in the public interest, of which there are several tests. In addition, the PCC expects the Chief Constable (CC) to draw to her attention issues which (amongst other things) are sensitive, contentious, novel or repercussive or where there is a real risk that the Commissioner or Chief Constable could be exposed to public criticism.

In making this decision publicly and formally, through a published Decision Notice, the PCC will demonstrate that:

  • She is holding the Chief Constable to account by monitoring the financial support provided to a specific legal case, which is in the public interest
  • She is satisfied that supporting the action is a lawful and proportionate use of public money in line with her priority of supporting victims, and is in the best interests of the public purse

She is upholding her commitment to being open and transparent

Police and Crime Commissioner decision: Approved

Signature: signature
Date: 29 September 2015
Title: Police and Crime Commissioner

1. Introduction and Background

NOTE – As there are ongoing legal proceedings, some of the facts cannot be discussed in detail at this time. This Decision Notice will however demonstrate there has been much consideration and scrutiny of the lawful and appropriate use of public money and police resources in order to support the legal action. 

Over the last seven years an individual has been involved in a complex family dispute.  Some of the allegations made have been investigated for possible criminal offences.  During the course of the investigation, members of the public and several professionals involved in the case, including former and serving police officers, have sustained alleged harassment.  The alleged harassment has included an amount of comment about their personal integrity and has been experienced through correspondence with the force and the Office of the PCC (OPCC), in formal complaints and on various social media outlets including websites and blogs.

Criticism of North Yorkshire Police is of course accepted as fair comment and complaints are dealt with in accordance with procedures.  North Yorkshire Police strives to encourage engagement and debate with the public it serves, and in no way seeks to “close down” legitimate criticism that is helpful in improving the service response.  However, some of the comments have been so personal as to have affected the health of some of the recipients.  Police officers are used to dealing with difficult situations, they have broad shoulders and they are certainly not above criticism.  There has however been years of unwarranted harmful personal abuse that has tied up police time.  If the behaviour had been physical then there may have been a variety of different solutions to stop the behaviour and the Chief Constable has a statutory Duty of Care to look after the health and safety of his employees no matter how any distress is caused. Along with the health and safety of individuals, the effectiveness and efficiency of the police service is paramount and must be protected.  Over a considerable period of time the contact of individuals has impacted greatly on police resources in a way that is not sustainable.

The Chief Constable took the decision to proceed based on clear advice from a leading Barrister.  Based on that advice, the Chief Constable took the view that civil litigation was a necessary step to exercise his duty of care to members of his own organisation and to protect members of the public.

The decision by the CC to fund legal action to support individuals – both former and serving officers, and others connected with the case – attempting to prevent further alleged harassment was considered at great length.  Legal advice was proactively sought.  Alongside that formal legal advice, both the PCC’s and CC’s Chief Finance Officers were consulted and provided their professional opinion.  Financial regulations were also checked.  The External Auditors have also scrutinised the rationale and confirmed that North Yorkshire Police has the powers to undertake the actions that it has.

An employer has a statutory duty of care to the employees of the organisation.  Responsibilities include matters of health and safety and well-being.  Supporting this case seeks to addresses this.  Along with this duty on the employer there is a legal power and duty upon the PCC to maintain an efficient and effective police force for the area.  Supporting this action seeks to contribute to this in relation to the significant time and resource that has already been spent on this matter.

As is often the case in legal proceedings, most of the cost is frontloaded as evidence has had to be filed at the beginning.  This Decision Notice is being considered before the proceedings move towards any possible further hearings.

The position at this time is that the defendants can now decide whether to contest the case brought.  If they do so, a final hearing timetabled by the Judge would then be required.  It is of course hoped that a lengthy hearing can be avoided by the defendants agreeing to proposals made.

The final cost of the civil case will depend at what stage the case is finalised. Any early settlement will avoid a contested final hearing.  So far (to the date of this report), external legal advice and representation in the civil proceedings has cost £162,406. Most of the cost is frontloaded in this type of proceedings, as evidence has had to be filed at the beginning.  An estimate for the anticipated costs was made before the start of the proceedings and was estimated at around £202,000.  This is set against the cost of over £400,000 which the matter had already cost the force in dealing with the activities of those against whom the civil claim is made.  There was no apparent end to the case without positive action and other solutions had already been exhausted, which was a key factor in determining the course of action through the civil court.

In addition, the victims of the alleged harassment need to be able to seek relief from the alleged harassment they have felt and the PCC felt it appropriate to support them as victims in these proceedings.

2. Other Options Considered

It is for the Court to find, on consideration of evidence put before it, whether the issues and behaviour concerned have amounted to legal harassment of the individuals concerned. However, North Yorkshire Police felt obligated to take positive action to try to protect its staff.  Therefore it was decided to support the officers to commence civil proceedings as individuals.  In addition, as all solutions in the criminal arena had been exhausted for other claimants, a decision was taken to combine all actions of all individuals concerned from the start.  This was considered to be the most operationally and administratively effective solution saving both financially and court time (and therefore further public money) to combine all actions of the individuals concerned from the start.  It is hoped that the final outcome will reduce the distress felt by all those party to the action.

3. Contribution to Police and Crime Plan Priorities

The action supports the Policing Priorities in the Police and Crime Plan.

4. Implementation and Resourcing Implications

The proceedings will continue in line with Directions made by the Court and regular meetings will be held to monitor progress and plan for different outcomes depending on any Orders or Judgment.

5. Consultations Carried Out

Professional consideration and advice has been provided by: 

Department
Office of the PCC
Financial Services
Local Policing
Human Resources
Joint Corporate Legal Services
Corporate Communications

 5. Compliance Checks

Financial Implications/Value for money: 

Comments of the Commissioner’s Chief Finance Officer
Prior to any expenditure being undertaken on the work to support funding this case the PCC CFO and CC CFO were consulted and their authorisation sought to spend public money in the way proposed. As PCC CFO, and therefore advisor to the PCC on financial matters, it was my opinion at the time, and continues to be my opinion that the organisation has the ‘power’ to incur expenditure in this way based on 2 reasons from a financial perspective.

The first reason is that an employer has a statutory duty of care to their staff in matters of health and safety and well-being, which is something that supporting this case looked to address. The second reason is that the PCC has a legal power and duty to maintain an efficient and effective police force for the police area. Given the amount of time and resources that has been spent on this matter previously, an estimate of which is set out within this Decision Note, then to protect the effectiveness and efficiency of the Force and to enable scare resources to be directed to the most appropriate areas of policing then the power exists to spend the money in the way outlined within this Decision Note.

As mentioned elsewhere, legal advice has been sought and received in relation to the power of the organisation to spend public money in this way which supports the views of the statutory officers employed by the PCC and CC. In addition to this the External Auditors for North Yorkshire Police and the PCC have looked separately into this matter, to satisfy themselves that the organisation had the power to spend the public’s money in this way. While their formal opinion has not been received on the 2014/15 Statement of Accounts it has been communicated that they are satisfied that the ‘powers’ that the organisation has relied upon to incur this expenditure are lawful.

Comments of the Chief Constable’s Chief Finance Officer
I am in full agreement with the remarks made by the Commissioners Chief Finance Officer. 

Legal Implications:
External expert legal advice has been sought (which is legally privileged) and there has been significant consideration of the ‘vires’ (lawful power) to use public money to support the funding of this case.  The T/Force Solicitor and Head of Legal Services is satisfied that this report does not ask the PCC for North Yorkshire to make a decision which would (or would be likely to) give rise to a contravention of the law.

Human Resources Implications:
Welfare provision has been considered throughout in relation to those directly affected, due to the duration of this case, ongoing assessments should continue as part of our duty of care as an employer.

Public Access to information
As a general principle, the Commissioner expects to be able to publish all decisions taken and all matters taken into account when reaching the decision.  This Notice will detail all information which the Commissioner will disclose into the public domain.  The decision and information will be made available on the Commissioner’s website.

Only where material is properly classified as Restricted under the Government Protective Marking Scheme or if that material falls within the description at 2(2) of The Elected Local Policing Bodies (Specified Information) Order 2011 will the Commissioner not disclose decisions and/or information provided to enable that decision to be made.  In these instances, Part 2 will be used to detail those matters considered to be restricted.  Information in Part 2 will not be published.

All decisions taken by the Commissioner will be subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA).


Part 2

Is there a Part 2 to this Notice – NO


 

I confirm that all the above advice has been sought and received against this and any associated Part 2 information and I am satisfied that this is an appropriate request to be submitted for a decision

Sponsor:     Joanna Carter                                                                                                 Date: 29th September 2015 

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