The veto in Police Governance

Reviewing a PCC’s budget and precept is one of a Police and Crime Panel’s key statutory functions. The ‘Power Check’ survey carried out by Frontline Consulting Associates and Grant Thornton UK LLP found that 36% of Panels responding said it was the most successful function they performed, but against that 29% of  Panels reported that it was the least successful. Although Panels were not asked their reasons for judging it as 'least successful', one reason may well have been the concern that a Panel’s power to veto their PCC’s precept is severely circumscribed. 

The following contribution by Dr C J Kemp, a South Norfolk District Council councillor and member of the Norfolk Police and Crime Panel since 2012, sets out his views on the power, in respect of both the PCC’s precept and the appointment of a Chief Constable, and its limitations.

, (“I forbid”, Latin). By that single word any one of the ten Tribunes of the People in the Roman Republic of the 2ndcentury BC could prohibit any legislative or policy initiative of the Senate or override any law made by one of the several assemblies with law-making powers.  This power, introduced to protect the majority Plebeians from oppression by the elite Patricians, was regularly deployed in the bitter rivalries that led to a series of Civil Wars in the 1stcentury BC.  Indeed, it was the granting of permanent tribunican power to Augustus in 27BC that is usually taken as the point when the Empire succeeded the Republic.

The recent use of the word in the English language has tended to be descriptive of a process rather than the label for a power.  For example, under the Charter of the United Nations, resolutions of the fifteen-member Security Council require the support of nine of those member-states including, under Article 27.3, the concurring votes of the five permanent members of the Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States).  Though the word “veto” is not applied to this arrangement, that is the effect in practice.

In contrast, the Police and Crime Panels established under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 are given what is expressly termed a “veto” but, in reality, this is a gross over-description of the power granted to the Panels.  There is, however, a curious near-parallel between the two set of provisions.  The effective Security Council resolution requires the support of three-fifths (60%) of the total membership as well as the concurrence of the five permanent members.  An operative Police and Crime Panel veto requires the support of two-thirds (66?%).

It is true that the UN Security Council requirement for the concurrence of the five permanent members is disapplied to “procedural” matters.  In contrast the PCP “veto” is only available in two narrowly defined sets of circumstances: the Commissioner’s proposed precept and his/her proposed appointment of a Chief Constable.

But these so-called “veto” powers are, in reality, a conditional request to the Commissioner for reconsideration.  A “veto” of the proposed precept requires the Commissioner to return to the Panel with a revised proposal though the Panel can indicate whether the original proposal was too high or too low and the Commissioner must adjust his/her proposal in the direction indicated.  The revised proposal cannot be “vetoed”.  A “veto” of the appointment of a Chief Constable merely means that the Commissioner must return to the Panel with a fresh nominee which the Panel cannot “veto”.

It therefore comes as no surprise that in the four years since the new arrangements prescribed by the 2011 Act there have been no vetoes of Chief Constable appointments and only two successful vetoes of precepts – Cumbria in 2015 because the precept was too high and Norfolk in 2016 because the precept was too low.

In truth, calling these powers of Police and Crime Panels a “veto” is a deliberate misnomer.  Both the “vetoes” are, in reality, powers to invite the Commissioner to reconsider his/her proposal.  The veto of the permanent members of the UN Security Council acknowledges the realities of International Politics. The so-called “veto” of Police and Crime Panels dresses up a request for reconsideration, perhaps a recognition of the relative strengths of the Commissioner and the Panel in the system of checks and balances.  The UN Security Council exercises real power; the Police and Crime Panel is a scrutiny body with very little real power, certainly no power of “veto” which the well-advised Commissioner cannot circumvent.

This essay is a personal contribution to debate by its author. His views do not represent those of South Norfolk District Council, nor of the Norfolk Police and Crime Panel or Frontline Consulting.

Should you wish to contribute an article please do not hestate to contact us. 

Published: 24 October 2016

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