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Rethink on police elections urged

Officers from the Greater Manchester PoliceElected police commissioners will replace police authorities in England and Wales.

Senior officers are urging ministers to change the law to allow people to stand for election as police commissioners even if they were convicted as a child.

The withdrawal of a number of candidates because they committed “minor” criminal offences as juveniles has prompted calls for a rethink.

Simon Duckworth, deputy chair of the City of London Police Authority, said there were “anomalies” in the rules.

But ministers said “high standards” were needed for elected officials.

The first elections for police and crime commissioners will take place in 41 regions in England and Wales on 15 November. The commissioners will replace police authorities, with the power to determine budgets and hire and fire chief constables.

The issue of who can stand in the elections has arisen after a number of candidates pulled out because of criminal offences they committed decades ago.

‘Difficult decision’

Alan Charles, who was Labour’s candidate in Derbyshire and vice chair of the region’s police authority, became the latest to withdraw on Friday.

Mr Charles said existing rules barred him from standing for the post because he had received a conditional discharge for a “minor” crime nearly 50 years ago, when he was 14.

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You can become an MP. You could even join the police service.

But a conviction for any offence which might result in a prison term is an automatic bar to standing as a Police and Crime Commissioner.

It doesn’t matter what the sentence actually was or when the crime was committed.

These were the strict rules drawn up by the Home Office and approved by Parliament at a time when there was concern that extremist candidates or those with a dodgy past might be elected to oversee the running of police forces.

Nothing was left to chance.

What officials, ministers and MPs didn’t apparently foresee was the unintended consequence of such a rigid approach: that it would prevent successful and able people who had a brush with the law decades ago from standing for election.

Common sense may well prevail – but it won’t be in time for the November elections.

He said he had sought clarification from the Home Office and the Electoral Commission and been told that juvenile convictions for imprisonable offences would bar people from holding the new office.

Another Labour candidate standing in Avon quit the contest earlier this week, saying he had been fined £5 for two offences he committed 46 years ago when he was 13.

The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners Transitional Board (APCC), which is overseeing the move from police authorities to commissioners, wants ministers to reconsider the rules.

The BBC’s home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said they wanted people to be allowed stand for election if they had a juvenile conviction dating back at least 10 or 15 years.

Mr Duckworth, the body’s chair, told the BBC it was “disappointing” that qualified candidates were having to withdraw so close to the elections.

Although it was “incredibly important” that communities had confidence in the integrity of candidates, he felt Parliament had not fully considered the distinction between adult and juvenile offences when passing legislation paving the way for the elections.

“It does seem to be an anomaly where a juvenile offence committed many years ago would disqualify someone who has served the community and the public over a number of years.”

‘Great shame’

Existing legislation cannot be changed in time for this year’s elections, for which candidates have to be officially selected by 19 October.

“That is a great shame for a number of obviously very worthy candidates,” Mr Duckworth told the BBC. “But we will be doing what we can to discuss with the government a way of moving this on in time for the next elections in four years time.”

The Home Office said the legislation disqualifies people from standing if convicted of an imprisonable offence, whether or not they themselves were sent to prison for that offence.

“This high standard was set with cross-party agreement because PCCs will hold police forces, whose duty is to uphold the law, to account,” a spokesman said.

The government says elected police commissioners will be more responsive to communities’ wishes but critics have said it will give too much power to a single individual and have expressed doubts about the quality and experience of candidates putting themselves forward.

The APCC is also asking Lord Justice Goldring, senior presiding judge in England and Wales, to reconsider his ban on magistrates standing as candidates.

It believes magistrates should be allowed to stand as a candidate if they take a “leave of absence” from the bench and that there should be no bar to them being on police and crime panels – which will scrutinise the work of the commissioners.

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