Sue Dauncey looks at the role of lawyers employed in the police service, and how the Division can help them

When I searched the Law Society website for ‘police lawyer’, ‘in house police lawyer’ or any variation on that theme, I could find no reference to the role occupied by those of us in the profession currently employed to provide an in house legal service to the police. In my experience that reflects the general knowledge about us and what we do. Will the launch of the Law Society’s In-house Division make a difference?

Lawyers in the service

There are over 200 lawyers employed in the police service in a variety of different sized departments. When colleagues attempted to define the role a few years ago they identified over 50 areas of law we might be expected to cover and the breadth of work often comes as some surprise to others in the profession. The role of ‘Force Solicitor’, as it was often called and sometimes still is, was created to provide a legal service to the Constabulary and Chief Constable following the severance of the prosecution function and its transfer to the Crown Prosecution Service.

The profile of the role varies considerably between police forces. There are colleagues who are still the only lawyer employed in house, some are in units responsible to a superintendent or chief superintendent, and others are members of their force’s chief officer group with status and responsibility equivalent to that of Assistant Chief Constable.

Current issues for us all this month include changes to arrest criteria under Code G of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, new offences of stalking and harassment, review of police conduct in the Hillsborough Report, recommendations from the imminent Leveson Report, implementation of the revised terms and conditions for police officers and, not least, the implications of the complete change in governance of the police by the election of Police and Crime Commissioners. This is against a daily backdrop of public and employer liability claims, inquests, public inquiries, police misconduct cases, employment litigation, civil applications in respect of proceeds of crime, sex offenders, anti social behaviour orders etc, licensing - firearms, liquor and other, advice on all operational activities, procurement and so on.

Dealing with cutbacks

In common with local government lawyers we find ourselves facing the dilemma of how to maintain quality of service in a time of diminishing resources. It is a constant challenge to maintain the resilience of an in house department whilst pressed to make the savings sought throughout the public sector. External legal services are scrutinised to determine what might effectively and economically be brought in house and collaborations with neighbouring forces are increasingly common enabling shared expertise and support.

Motivation and retention of experienced and skilled staff is essential despite constant reports of outsourcing ‘back office’ functions, pay freezes and pension changes. Staff turnover, however, remains fairly low because in my experience police lawyers, like police staff generally, are committed to contributing towards an efficient and effective policing service to the public and are aware of their part in achieving that.

Supporting the network

The majority of us are members of the Association of Police Lawyers, a formal free standing association formed from a loose network existing in the early 1990’s. It has supplied bespoke training, best practice advice and a forum for discussing emerging problems and interests. Its existence is dependent on the voluntary contribution of time from its members and that time at the moment is in short supply. Yet never has the need for the nature of the support it gives been so important. This makes the Law Society intentions to engage with all in house members rather than just in house corporate counsel and local government lawyers particularly opportune. Four years ago the Association sought its views in respect of the extension of the police complaints system to police staff and in particular police lawyers given that we were already subject to a regulatory code. The response was disappointing, we hope for more now.

If the Law Society can support us while we attain the innovation and vision required to move forward positively into an uncertain future it will make a difference.