Appeal judges have rejected attempts by the police to escape accountability for use of force against suspects. The Court of Appeal last week clarified that where a an officer seeks to justify use for force by claiming to have made an honest mistake that he faced imminent danger then that action might still amount to misconduct if their belief was unreasonable.
On December 11, 2015, a police officer, known as Officer W80, shot and killed Jermaine Baker during a foiled prison breakout. Baker was in a stolen Audi with two other men, waiting for Izzet Eren and a co-defendant to arrive in a security van from Wormwood Scrubs prison to be sentenced for a firearms offence.He died from a single gunshot wound.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) stated in their investigation on 12 November 2018 that Officer W80 had used excessive force and recommended that disciplinary proceedings for gross misconduct begin. The watchdog concluded that a reasonable panel at a misconduct hearing would likely find that Officer W80’s honest, but mistaken, belief that Jermaine Baker was reaching for a firearm and his life was threatened was unreasonable. As a result, the IOPC directed the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to undergo proceedings for gross misconduct against Officer W80.
Officer W80 challenged the IOPC’s action with a judicial review and was successful in the High Court were it was held the watchdog should have applied the criminal law test. The criminal test is that an officer’s belief in the threat need only be honest and not reasonable. The IOPC appealed to the Court of Appeal with Jermaine Baker’s family acting as an interested party. The Court of Appeal overturned the High Court’s decision.
His family welcomed the decision. ‘What is important now is that W80 is held to account for his actions,’ said, Baker’s mother Margaret Smith. ‘The Metropolitan Police Service have fought hard to avoid taking any action against him. We look to the MPS now to respect the direction of the IOPC and the decision of the Court of Appeal and to bring proper and effective proceedings against W80.’
The court stated that the standards of professional behavior that is required of police officers are statutory under the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2012, section two: ‘… police officers only use force to the extent that it is necessary, proportionate and reasonable in all the circumstances.’ The Court of Appeal confirmed that where an officer claims to have made an honest mistake that they faced imminent danger, the force used in response may amount to misconduct if that belief was unreasonable.
‘The Court of Appeal has firmly rejected attempts by the Metropolitan Police Service and the National Police Chiefs’ Council to weaken police accountability for the use of force in this country,’ commented Michael Oswald of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, who represented the family. ‘However, it is deeply troubling that those organisations seem to remain so resistant to public scrutiny. It is completely at odds with their very public statements purporting to stand in support of calls for police accountability in the wake of the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement.’
You can read the judgment here.