A sinister small claims court case will take place in the next few weeks which will impact on any Special Police Officer who finds themselves defending a criminal allegation against them. Until very recently all Special Constables subject of a criminal allegation have been represented under a Home Office directive by Reynolds Dawson Solicitors in London. This being funded and paid for by the local police authority and would involve travel from the home force to London as regularly as the defending solicitor required. As we all know it is the easiest thing in the world to end up being subject of a complaint and, as the economy worsens and more demonstrations are expected, the opportunity for complaints to become full blown criminal enquiries massively increases. To our colleagues, such as Special Dibble, who come and police for no pay, watch your backs.
The case in question involves a special constable who was charged with assault alongside regular officers. It does not matter whether none, any or all of them were guilty because the defending action of the force does not separate them. It is simply this (paraphrased in my own words):
If a Special Constable is subject of criminal proceedings as a result of an action brought against them for an on duty incident then all actions subsequent to that, undertaken in their defence, will be considered off duty. The consequence of this is significant in that attendance at defence solicitors and defence barristers will occur off duty and therefore will not allow the Special Police Officer to claim loss of earnings or any other expenses. In addition, the Special Officer will also be considered to be off duty for appearance at court and unlike the regular officers, will also not be able to claim expenses or loss of earnings.
In the small claims scenario, in accordance with Regulation 10 of the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2008, the full time officers were paid whilst suspended which included the days they were at court and their visits to solicitors local to them. The Special Constable was not paid by his employer for his loss of earnings whilst travelling to London to see his solicitors engaged by them on his behalf. The full time officers were also allowed to claim travel expenses to every court appearance they were required to attend including the 5 week trial during which they received full pay under suspension. The Special Police Officer was refused his claim for travel expenses and loss of earnings arising from the same incident. There is no guarantee that the claim to have the loss of earnings will be successful in the small claims court as the relevant force is strongly defending the claim.
The sinister aspect of this is that the relevant force during a significant recruitment drive for Special Constables want to keep this quiet because they don’t want Specials to know that they face this potential financial time-bomb just because they turn up for unpaid work and an allegation is made about their conduct. Could you afford 5 weeks of no pay simply to defend your actions as a Special Police Officer with no hope of ever recovering that loss of earnings?
Is this a breach of Article 6 of the Human Rights Act as the choice you face as a Special is whether to incur additional costs over and above what regular officers face or do you refuse to attend your legal appointments and thereby lose the ability to fight the trial on a fair basis? Is it right that, as a Special Police Officer, you are obliged to obtain legal advice about your on duty incident in your own time and at your own expense? As a regular officer I find it an incomprehensible anomaly that regular officers receive full pay and allowances but Special Officers don’t for the same set of circumstances, the same incident and the same court case.
If you are a Special then you need to establish your own force’s policy. You need to establish whether the force you devote your spare time to serving is one of the forces who will put you at significant financial risk just for trying to defend your on duty actions. If you don’t then I wish you well in your endeavours and I hope your insurance policies cover your earnings shortfall should the worst happen to you and you face a criminal trial into your behaviour.
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!