27 Jun 2012

Law doesn’t disqualify Weston, Grieve reckons

The Attorney General Dominic Grieve believes that Simon Weston is allowed to stand for one of the new police and crime commissioner (PCC) posts.  My suggestion in a blog last week, that Weston might be barred because of a teenage conviction, seems to have caused quite a stir at the highest levels in Whitehall.  Weston, who plans to stand in South Wales, was the best example of a big-name serious independent candidate to emerge in the PCC elections so far.

Home Office officials reacted with some dismay last week when I published my blog saying that the 2011 Police Act seemed to be so strict as to disqualify Mr Weston. This was because of an offence Weston committed around 36 years ago when he was just 14. The Falklands war hero was convicted in South Wales of being in a stolen car, fined £30 and put on probation for three months. The Home Secretary Theresa May told me at a Common lunch last week that the law was not designed to disqualify Weston. I also understand that she is confident the law allows Weston to stand.

I suggested in my initial blog (after contact with several lawyers) that Simon Weston might be disqualified from standing under section 66, clause three, of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, which says:

“A person is disqualified from being elected as, or being, a police and crime commissioner if –

…. (c) the person has been convicted, in the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands, or the Isle of Man, of any imprisonable offence (whether or not sentenced to a term of imprisonment in respect of the offence)”

The act says that “imprisonable offence” means “an offence – (i) for which a person who has attained the age of 18 years may be sentenced to a term of imprisonment”.

Home Office officials explained to me last week that this means people are barred from standing for PCC if convicted of something at any age for which they might have been sent to jail had the offence been committed when they were 18 or older.

I have now learnt that the Weston case has even been drawn to the attention of the Attorney General.  While Grieve accepts that the 2011 act lacks clarity in the way it is worded, I understand that he has studied it carefully and concluded that it does not bar Weston from standing.  I can only presume this means that Grieve has interpreted the line (see above) defining “imprisonable offence” rather differently to Home Office advisers, and as exempting people under 18 at the time the crime was committed rather than including them.

But it’s not up to Grieve ultimately to decide who is qualified to stand in an election, or Theresa May.  Indeed, it would be a very worrying development if individual elected politicians had this say.

The act may have to be tested in the courts.

And the PCC legislation does seem to be extremely tough, reflecting wide concerns in and outside Parliament, that PCCs, who will have oversight of local police forces, should be whiter than white, and subject to much tougher rules than MPs or government ministers.  Earlier this week Kieron Mallon, a long-standing Conservative councillor from north Oxfordshire, announced that he was withdrawing  from the contest to to be Tory candidate for PCC in Thames Valley, on the grounds that he was disqualified by an assault conviction from more than ten years ago (though he was an adult at the time).  It’s all slightly embarrassing for the Home Secretary and Grieve, both of whom are MPs for the Thames Valley area where the Conservatives seem to have had great difficulty finding a suitable candidate.

And I suspect the act will end up causing surprise casualties among one or two other PCC contenders who don’t yet appreciate how tough it is.

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3 reader comments

  1. Ken Little says:

    Sam,

    Nick Herbert MP has a different view from Ms May MP I accept from different parts of the Government.
    This may be one for Human rights appeal (right to employment) IF and it is a big if assuming your position and Mr Herbert position outweighs Ms May the big question is which one is the more justified, legal not able to challenge position.
    The Courts will decide that legal argument if as I suspect if and when necessary. 

    No one not even you can determine that outcome it is very much about the legislation and the effect of that legislation, (MPs not fully decided on) against the human rights act and how that is affected by this oddity that has appeared exclusively for PCC elections, although not fully by all MP’s or legal Counsel.
    This may cause some disruption and delays in some areas of the UK for candidates who stand but are later challenged on their stand (the other potential court case being how it was disclosed, by who, and why, potential civil claim).

    In regards to someone (anyone) signing a document or other paper that says they comply with the law in this regard is about interpretation of the law that as you say MPs are not clear on.
    I say the best of luck if someone (anyone) is charged with breaking the law by signing a declaration that is itself not clear, (different interpretations) and clearly in my view undemocratic.

    If any candidate has a fear or uncertainty about the law and the interpretation of the law I suggest do not go to a solicitor or barrister as inevitably you will get different opinions from them I would allow natural justice to prevail and if charged rely upon the assistance of the law to Counsel at the trial (if it proceeds that far) to defend the right to stand in a democratic country like the UK as a PCC candidate.

    The alternative is you can pay upfront and get bad advise, you will pay a great deal of money for that advice, and you may act on it, without testing the legislation in the courts and at a loss to the democratic process that should allow all candidates to stand if they are rehabilitated, many MPs and Lords who broke the law still “stand” they are clearly are not remorseful, or rehabilitated if we are to believe the press.

    One rule for the law makers who never change, and another for the law breakers who clearly as Simon Weston shows has changed seems a little unfair to me, what about you?

    I have no idea what you are talking about press reports dog handlers.
    All my other details are FACTS not allegations look at KPA web site to get a feel of the facts, or ask KPA or KP if they are allegations or substantiated facts.

    If i wish to be added to your web site (thank you for your invitation) I will consider that with my clear policies outlined of which you picked up on one, I suggest look at the other 19 to get a feel of my position.

    If and when I make my application to become PCC for Kent I will undertake all that is required of me considering the position at that time on what the law suggest is legitimate, and has to be undertaken assuming it does not infringe any human rights issues, as for a assurance to you that is totally unnecessary and unjustified considering your “part time” activities on this subject matter, if you feel you may be liable for misrepresentations then I suggest seek legal advice with all the caveats I have indicated above, be aware!

    Regards.
    Mr Little.PCC candidate for Kent

    1. Ken Little says:

      Why are my comments 28th June taking so long to be posted on this web site?
      Ken Little

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