Response driving experts drafted in for fairer legal process

Photo: Police Federation conference panel

A cadre of subject matter experts in police response driving has been drafted in to ensure all evidence is presented to the Crown Prosecution Service and during disciplinary investigations, for a fairer process for all involved in incidents. 

The matter was discussed during a panel session on the second day of the Police Federation’s Annual Conference. 

Through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, police drivers have greater legal protection thanks to years of campaigning by the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW). 

The law now takes into account the high standards of training received by police drivers, which means their driving will no longer be judged to the same standard of the careful and competent driving member of public. However, any manoeuvre performed must be within their training, and officers must be up to date with their training.  

The Police Federation and roads policing leads are still pushing for a clause in the legislation which states if the manoeuvre is outside of their training, it will consider whether it was proportionate and necessary. 

A new legal framework will also be in place that will evaluate the way police drivers will be assessed. This will be underpinned by subject matter experts, people with considerable experience in police driving and driver training, to ensure consistency and fairness. 

“We have been working on this since 2016, so we have been through three policing ministers,” Tim Rogers, PFEW National Lead for Pursuits and Driver Training told delegates. 

“But without appropriate governance, we would have found our campaign for officer driving to be assessed against that of their similarly trained colleagues and it could have led to officers being at more risk of prosecution than less. 

“A breach of driving policy could be considered a breach of law, which is why we needed those assessing the drivers through this new legal process to have the professionalism, knowledge and expertise required, so officers have the confidence to use their skills and training in the way intended without fear of prosecution. In the past we have also seen cases where only selective evidence has been presented – we are putting an end to that.” 

Roger Gardner, Police Staff Driver Training Manager at Lancashire Constabulary has now established and trained a cadre of subject matter experts who are currently being used on live jobs. They will provide evidence for prosecution and defence, improving the quality of the court process. 

Mr Gardner said, “A number of people who have provided evidence in the past have never been a driver trainer or never been in a pursuit. But we’ve now got a group of experts together and they have had their training. Last year we had 22 requests for SMEs.” 

Gripping CCTV footage was played from an incident involving an officer who was cleared of causing death by dangerous driving last year, demonstrating the importance of greater legal protection. 

Simon Hill, from Metropolitan Police Federation said, “We understand there is a requirement for us to be scrutinised when things don’t go right, the whole misconduct process must have confidence from the public and police officers alike in the process.”

Deputy Chief Constable Terry Woods, QPM, National Lead for Police Driving, stressed the importance of being in date with training in order to claim defence in court. 

He said, “If they can’t, and if some people in your forces have slipped out of date, or forces are behind, I would argue this needs to be put on the top of the list, because it’s an area of high frequency and high risk. It is really important.” 

Mr Gardner added, “When this legislation comes through, if your members aren’t in date – effectively you are driving against the law. You really need to get on to them and tell them they have got to be trained, and they have got to be in date – if they are not, they’ll be committing a criminal offence.” 

The importance of standardised police driver training was also discussed amongst the panel. 

Work has taken place over a number of years to ensure there is now standardised course material and training, while the College has new Approved Professional Practice. 

DCC Woods added there are plans to ensure driver training schools are licensed, akin to firearms and public order training centres.