10th June 1964. Which Arm of the Law?
It was the Municipal Corporation Act of 1835 which required Boroughs to establish a Watch Committee and to appoint constables to ‘preserve the peace’.(1)
After a series of scandals and disputes concerning Chief Constables and Watch Committees, a Royal Commission on the Police was appointed in 1960 under Henry Willink.
It resulted in the Police Act which Today in 1964 received the Royal Assent.
The cases concerned Police in the days when most Boroughs and Cities had their own force, controlled by the local Watch Committee and developed into disputes between Local Councils, Watch Committees, Chief Constables and the Home Secretary.
The first scandal in 1958 involved corruption in the Brighton Police when at the trial the judge said that he had no further interest in the police evidence until John Ridge the Chief Constable was replaced.
The Watch Committee said that they had no access to the Inspector of Constabulary’s Report which went direct to the Home Office, but presumably would have had some notion of the charges.
A desire that reports went to both bodies and enlargement of the Inspector’s powers went along with the admission that Watch Committees did not have now the expertise to supervise the police,
The second stimulus to reform came when Chief Constable of Nottingham City, Capt.Athelstan Popkess in 1959 refused to hand over evidence to the Watch Committee regarding corruption by Councillors and was promptly sacked.
However the Press was on the story on the eve of Municipal elections and Home Secretary Butler forced his reinstatement or he would withdraw funding.
The third case was the dispute when the same Home Secretary refused to interfere with his Police Commissioner in the case of Garratt v P.C. Eastmond, when the constable’s court fees were paid out of public money by the Home Secretary, who as a consequence received a Commons censure motion.(2)
Resulting from the 1964 Act in England and Wales, was the abolition of Watch Committees and the power of the Home Secretary to combine forces from July 1964 into Police Areas-mainly counties-and the formation of Independent Police Authorities which elucidated accountability and authority of Chief Constables.(3)
The whole business brought up questions of local or central accountability of the police, and raised the issue whether local ‘democratic’control was outmoded, thus making a political case for greater central control, in a world of easier communication for both police and villain.
Problems regarding the police go back to the early years: in the 1850.s it was efficiency; in 1919 concerns of national security resulting from the police strike; in the 1920.s, cost in a time of financial stringency, but never any talk of central control.
The question of accountability was finally settled in 2012 when Police Authorities were abolished and replaced by elected Police and Crime Commissioners.
(1) Counties in 1889 had their own Joint Committees.
(2) The Home Secretary is directly responsible for the Metropolitan Police and the case revolved round wrongful arrest.
(3) Scotland and Northern Ireland have different systems.
Ref: Words and Deedes. W.F.Deedes. Selected Journalism. 1931-2006.