Interplay Between Misconduct Proceedings and Regulation 13: Barnes v Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police

Citation: [2023] EWHC 2737 (Admin)
Judgment on

Introduction

The case of Nicholas Barnes v Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police provides an intricate exploration of the interplay between misconduct proceedings and the use of Regulation 13 under the Police Regulations 2003 for discharging probationary constables. This analysis delves into the key topics and legal principles adjudicated by Mr. Justice Lavender in the High Court, connecting them to relevant aspects of the summarised case law.

Key Facts

  • Nicholas Barnes, a probationary constable with Thames Valley Police, was challenged with the force’s decision to discharge him following his telling of a racist joke while on duty.
  • Initially, Barnes was subjected to misconduct proceedings under the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2020, where a panel concluded his action constituted misconduct rather than gross misconduct, warranting a written warning.
  • The defendant later decided to discharge Barnes under Regulation 13 of the Police Regulations 2003, prompting this claim for judicial review where Barnes contended the discharge was unlawful, irrational, unfair, and an inappropriate use of Regulation 13 following misconduct proceedings.

Several legal principles were instrumental in this case:

Misconduct vs. Gross Misconduct

The distinction between ‘misconduct’ and ‘gross misconduct’ as per the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2020 is essential, where the former implies wrongdoings serious enough for a disciplinary action, while the latter indicates a breach justifying dismissal.

Regulation 13’s Purpose and Application

Regulation 13 allows for the discharge of a probationary constable if deemed not likely to become efficient or well-conducted. It was key to ascertain whether Regulation 13 could be invoked after misconduct proceedings based on the same incident.

Estoppel Principles

The court explored doctrines like cause of action and issue estoppel, questioning whether previous findings in related proceedings could prevent the chief constable from acting under Regulation 13.

Procedural Fairness

The requirement for procedural fairness was scrutinised concerning whether Barnes was given a fair opportunity to respond to the grounds leading to his discharge under Regulation 13.

Home Office Guidance Interpretation

The court considered the interpretation of the Conduct Guidance, which advises whether misconduct matters involving probationary officers should be addressed via disciplinary proceedings or Regulation 13.

Judicial Review Grounds

Claims of irrationality and ultra vires were evaluated against the Chief Constable’s actions to determine whether the judicial review claim had merit.

Outcomes

The court concluded:

  • The defendant, Chief Constable, was entitled to commence Regulation 13 proceedings following the misconduct determination, as it was not estopped by cause of action, issue estoppel, or considered a collateral attack on the previous decision.
  • The decision made by the Chief Constable under Regulation 13 was within the purview of his managerial discretion and accountability to the public.
  • The Chief Constable’s duty to consider procedural fairness in the Regulation 13 proceedings was deemed satisfied as the Claimant had multiple opportunities to present his case.
  • The judicial review claim by Barnes was dismissed, solidifying the Chief Constable’s decision for discharge under Regulation 13.

Conclusion

In Barnes v Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police, the court underscored the Chief Constable’s discretionary authority to initiate Regulation 13 proceedings after misconduct proceedings based on the same set of facts, provided remorse and insight have been thoroughly assessed. This decision affirms the autonomy of a Chief Constable in managing probationary service terminations, notwithstanding prior disciplinary measures, and reinforces the discrete nature of discipline and performance-related processes within UK police conduct regulations.

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