Rishi Sunak says armed police need ‘clarity’ about their legal powers

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Armed police officers need “clarity” about their legal powers to use deadly force, Rishi Sunak has said.

The Prime Minister has backed a Home Office review into whether current rules prevent them from protecting the public.

Mr Sunak said it was “important” armed officers had “certainty” about what they were doing, especially when they had to make split-second decisions about whether to shoot.

They are his first public comments on the issue after more than 100 Metropolitan Police officers are believed to have stood down from firearms duties when one of their colleagues was charged with murder.

Cover has been drafted in from neighbouring forces and the military received a request to be used in the event of a terror attack, but soldiers do not have the authority to be used in routine policing.

On Monday, the Metropolitan Police said enough armed officers have returned to duties for the force to meet its counter-terror responsibilities without military help. However, it was still receiving help from other forces.

‘Confidence to do their job’

Sir Mark Rowley, the force’s commissioner, welcomed the Home Office review ordered by Suella Braverman.

The Home Secretary said she wanted to ensure armed officers “have the confidence to do their job”. Sir Mark said armed officers needed “sufficient legal protection to enable them to do their job”.

Speaking to broadcasters during a visit to a community centre in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, Mr Sunak said: “Our firearms officers do an incredibly difficult job.

“They are making life or death decisions in a split second to keep us safe and they deserve our gratitude for their bravery.

“Now it is important when they are using these legal powers that they do so with clarity and they have certainty about what they are doing, especially given the lethality they are using.”

The Home Office said the review would seek to establish whether the current rules for armed officers were “unjustifiably” preventing officers from carrying out their job of protecting the public.

“The review will cover the scrutiny process which surrounds police pursuits and use of force and whether current arrangements strike the right balance between holding police officers accountable while also ensuring they do not in any way unjustifiably inhibit or prevent the police from completing their important duties,” said a spokesman.

In an open letter to the Home Secretary published on Sunday, Sir Mark suggested legal changes over the way self-defence is interpreted in police misconduct cases.

He also put forward the introduction of a criminal standard of proof for unlawful killing in inquests and inquiries, along with changes to the threshold at which the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) can launch an investigation.

Sir Mark said: “There is a concern on the part of firearms officers that even if they stick to the tactics and training they have been given, they will face years of protracted legal proceedings which impact on their personal wellbeing and that of their family.

“While previous reviews have been announced, they have not delivered change.

“Carrying a firearm is voluntary. We rely on officers who are willing to put themselves at risk on a daily basis to protect the public from dangerous criminals including terrorists.

“Officers need sufficient legal protection to enable them to do their job and keep the public safe, and the confidence that it will be applied consistently and without fear or favour.”

Officers facing lengthy investigations

Sir Mark called for time limits for Independent Office for Police Conduct and Crown Prosecution Service processes to “reduce the punitive impact” on officers facing lengthy investigations.

He also suggested that more contextual information about incidents could be released “to ensure public confidence in policing”.

The Metropolitan Police Federation, the group which represents officers from the rank of constable to chief inspector, offered Sir Mark its support following the publication of his letter.

The federation said: “Colleagues should not fear for their liberty and livelihoods for simply doing the job the public expect of us.”

Ministers have looked to assure that the public will be kept safe after the Armed Forces were put on standby to assist the Metropolitan Plice.

The force has confirmed that the Ministry of Defence has agreed to a request to provide it with counter-terrorism support “should it be needed” as a “contingency option” if an “appropriate policing response was not available”.

The Metropolitan Police said Armed Forces’ personnel will not be used in a “routine policing capacity” under the arrangement.

Rachel Maclean, the housing minister, told LBC: “They will be doing everything they can – these are trained professionals, and their job is to put themselves into harm’s way in the line of duty.”

She denied that armed officers were stepping away from protecting the public, telling Sky News their decision to hand back their firearms permits was likely to have been taken “reluctantly”.

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