Make it harder to sue police, Met chief Stephenson says

image captionSir Paul Stephenson wants a 'radical shake-up'

Britain's most senior police officer has asked the home secretary to help cut the amount of legal action taken against his force.

Met Police chief Sir Paul Stephenson suggested making it harder for members of the public to bring civil cases against police, the Guardian reported.

He also said staff bringing employment tribunal cases should be charged a fee.

The Home Office said it was usual for Sir Paul to write to the home secretary and his opinions would be considered.

The Guardian said a confidential letter was written in June and sent to Home Secretary Theresa May, with appendices.

The newspaper reported that the appendices were released, but not the letter.

Sir Paul called for a "radical shake-up" of the system, to avoid a drain on police resources.

"Currently for every pound paid out in compensation, up to £10 or sometimes more has to be paid out in legal costs to the claimants' lawyers," he said.

"One of the key aspects is that the average settlements are well under £10,000 and most under £5,000, in other words these are not major areas of police misconduct with long-lasting consequences, but often technical breaches."

'Speculative' cases

On employment tribunals, he wrote: "As you will be aware, currently there are no cost disincentives for claimants lodging speculative employment tribunal claims which are withdrawn after considerable public resources have been expended in order to respond to such claims."

He suggested a fee should be introduced for lodging employment claims.

The Police Federation of England and Wales questioned the notion of "speculative claims" at employment tribunals, with chief Paul McKeever saying: "Going to an employment tribunal is the last resort people take after being frustrated by the system."

In the appendices, Sir Paul also suggested the introduction of a fee for requests for documents under the Freedom of Information Act. The act gives the public a right of access to all types of recorded information held by public authorities.

But legal campaigners have criticised any attempt to curtail people's rights.

James Welch, legal director of the civil rights group Liberty, told the Guardian: "The ability to challenge police misconduct in court is a vital constitutional safeguard against abuse of power."

Lord Blair, Sir Paul's predecessor as Metropolitan Police commissioner, said it was legitimate for his successor to examine all areas of expenditure in these days of spending cuts.

"We obviously live in a very litigious society and the police are an agency which is bound to come into conflict with citizens from time to time," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Asked whether Sir Paul could be seen as trying to put the police beyond the rule of law, Lord Blair said that was not his view.

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