Police have ‘duty to act fairly’

Posted: 21st August 2012

In a ruling with important implications for companies and individuals performing tasks on behalf of police and other public authorities, a High Court judge has ruled that a police force had a public law duty to act fairly when considering whether security clearance should be granted to a non-police contractor.

PoliceThe claimant, a sole trader who, as a sub-contractor, provided vehicle hire, breakdown and recovery services to a police force, was refused security vetting clearance for reasons that were not disclosed to him on grounds that information relating to him was held for a policing purpose.

Upholding the claimant’s judicial review challenge, Mr Justice Kenneth Parker rejected the police force’s arguments that decisions relating to security vetting are a ‘private’ matter and not justiciable in public law.

The judge accepted that it is a ‘special privilege’ for private companies or individuals to work together with the police and such roles are rightly confined to those in whom the police can have absolute and unqualified trust.

Police forces, he added, are entitled to set an ‘ultra-precautionary standard’ when carrying out security vetting on private contractors and to refuse security clearance to contractors who might, even innocently, be associated with criminal elements.

However, the judge said that the police force involved in the case had, in reaching its decision, unlawfully relied upon a ‘policy of blanket refusal to give any information to any person who had been rejected for security clearance.’

The giving of some explanation for a refusal of security clearance could ordinarily be accommodated within the vetting process without putting at risk efficient and effective policing and ‘a blanket denial of any explanation in each and every case cannot be squared with the duty to act fairly,’ the judge ruled.

The judge directed the police force to reconsider the claimant’s request for further information and an explanation as to why he did not pass the security vetting procedure.