PRIME Minister Cameron has ordered a review into the use of guns by police in England and Wales following the Paris terrorist attacks.
The review will examine whether the law should support officers who make a wrong ‘split-second’ decision to shoot-to-kill during a Paris-style terror attack. It follows concerns from senior police that firearms officers do not have the necessary legal or political backing to work with confidence.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told the Sunday Times that any moves to weaken oversight of firearms use would ‘diminish’ public confidence in the police. ‘There has to be a very robust and strong independent inquiry into what the police do. Like any other public organisation, they must be held to account. I hope this is not a political stunt.’
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe is understood to have raised concerns with Cameron about the legal position of armed officers. The issue was also discussed at a National Security Council meeting on counter-terrorism last week.
Police have warned that lengthy investigations, public inquiries and even prosecutions following a shooting could deter officers from taking up firearms roles. Currently, the Criminal Law Act 1967 allows police to use ‘reasonable force’, while the Criminal Justice Act 2008 recognises the defence that an officer had an ‘honest and instinctive’ belief that opening fire was reasonable.
The internal review – to be carried out by the Home Office, the Attorney General’s office and the Ministry of Justice – is expected to examine whether those laws go far enough to protect armed officers and prevent them hesitating in the event of an attack.
At present 6,000 out of the 130,000 officers in England and Wales, are trained to use guns, but the government has announced plans to significantly increase that number. The Met Police are also planning to increase the number of officers able to use Tasers and Cameron is also thought to be in favour of this.
A firearms officer was arrested last week over the fatal shooting of Jermaine Baker, 28, in Wood Green, north London. The Independent Police Complaints Commission is also investigating the incident.
An unnamed government official told the BBC: ‘Terrorist incidents both at home and abroad have shown very clearly the life and death decisions police officers have to make in split-second circumstances.
‘We must make sure that when police take the ultimate decision to protect the safety of the public they do so with the full support of the law and the state – there can be no room for hesitation when lives are at risk.’ This will mean allowing the police to commit murder.