Stuart Lister and Michael Rowe (Eds.), Accountability of Policing

Published August 2015

Reviewed by Jamie Grace

Cite as Grace, J. Review of Stuart Lister and Michael Rowe (Eds.), Accountability of Policing (2016) 22 (1) EJOCLI

Introduction to the aims and content of the book

As you might expect from the perspective of a book review located within a special issue of this journal dedicated to police accountability, albeit from the perspective of public law scholarship, it almost goes without saying that this can be considered a most timely edited volume. But in fact, this is also a superbly curated book, which includes a wide array of academic perspectives in this topical, and indeed crucial, matter of regulation and oversight in public life and discourse. One aim of the book, we are told, is to set out a "related series of emerging concerns which explore how the focus, mechanisms and challenges of policing accountability have been rapidly transformed"; and I would suggest that this book conveys that sense of accelerating change admirably well. So too does the book achieve another of its main aims on setting out the relevant complexity of the different challenges for police accountability that exist; chiefly because the wide range of author perspectives throughout the book can (and do) facilitate this. This review highlights some of the main points addressed by different chapters in the book that readers of this special issue would find particularly of note (or rather, as I have assumed).

Defining accountability in the context of policing

As Lister and Rowe, the two editors of the book, take pains to discuss in their own introductory chapter, citizens should have recourse in both public law and private law to means of scrutinising the police and gaining redress for harms caused to them by policing operations, policy or strategy - and of course via the courts: though there are stubborn barriers to access to justice in holding the police to account through the law, as Lister and Rowe acknowledge (p.4).

But more broadly for the editors of this book, writing in their introductory chapter, the notion of police accountability is a 'container concept' (p.2). Richard Young, in his contribution (p.19), observes that 'accountability' could be seen by some as a 'virtual synonym for either control or regulation'. Robert Reiner however, in a later chapter, clearly thinks (p.134-5) that 'accountability' is too vague to be a useful concept (a "weasel word") if it is not given a 'clear and agreed meaning' with regard to a set of values by which a public service (here, policing) is actually governed - and through which officials must take account of and respond to criticism of their standards and behaviours. The chapter by Reiner (Chapter 7) is the best in the book, in my view. He rightly highlights that when it comes to the issue of police accountability, the actual granularity with which public law principles are applied or even formulated can sometimes be part of the problem, as well as the occasional solution: since "the courts provide a potential remedy for the illegal violations of rights, but not against policies or practices that may be grossly disproportionate in their impact on particular sections of the community, such as stop and search, if these are carried out within the very permissive limits of the law" (p.141).

Policing, regulation and accountability

Clearly though, regulation and accountability, as concepts, must and do have some overlapping qualities and aspects. In Chapter 2 of the book, Richard Young, in his excellent contribution on 'stop and account' as an object of study in the police accountability field, takes pains to cite (p.20) the widely drawn-upon definition of regulation offered up by Julia Black:

"[Regulation is] the sustained and focused attempt to alter the behaviour of others according to defined standards or purposes with the intention of producing a broadly identified outcome or outcomes, and which may involve mechanisms of standard-setting, information-gathering and behaviour modification."[1]

However, in discussing the judicial review litigation in Diedrick[2], for example (p.24-5), Richard Young shows how difficult this task of regulation of policing, with an aim of setting standards, can be when there are competing pressures at hand - such as the need to ensure non-discriminatory policing of public spaces, and the purported need to cut 'red tape' or overall costs. But because of the difficulties in anticipating legal or doctrinal shifts, then regulatory or technological initiatives to improve police accountability, such as one of Young's suggestions in his chapter in this book (to increase the use of citizen-surveillance of police through the use of smartphone technology, in order to better combat abuses of power in street policing, p.38-41), face some challenges in relation to legal compliance (with shifts in European data protection law, for example, in relation to that particular example [3]).

Accountability and integrity, too, have clear thematic links as concepts; and parts of this book seek to explore and shape the discourse in this regard. Chapter 4 of the book, 'Getting Behind the Blue Curtain: Managing police integrity', written by Michael Rowe, Louise Westmarland and Courtney Hougham, is a fascinating study of police ethical self-perception, and would be most useful to read as a complement to the article written by Ashley Savage for this special issue. The chapter also ends on a point about the increasing calls for surveillance by the police to be made more accountable; a good jumping-off point for my article written with Marion Oswald (again for this special issue); and of course a strong prelude to Chapter 5 of the book itself, by Cindy Davids and Gordon Boyce on 'Integrity, Accountability and Public Trust: Issues raised by the unauthorised use of confidential police information'. Davids and Boyce demonstrate in their work that the problems that can be caused in one context by the relative over-complexity and disorganisation of police intelligence records [4] can sometimes be matched by a troubling misuse of police records by the police themselves.

What of issues of accountability in relation to international policing? In their chapter in this book, concerned with 'Reflections on Legal and Political Accountability for Global Policing' (Chapter 11), Ben Bowling and James Sheptycki address some European and international dimensions to police accountability, noting that through this lens, it is possible to view police accountability as a rhizomic (decentralised) public law and policy issue (p.216): overlapping, multi-layered and fluid in terms of sovereignty and jurisdiction - with transnational policing as a "synecdoche of the global system" (p.217): even while "presumptions about the sovereignty of the state are made in the context of a complex polycentric system of global governance" (p.225). This chapter of the book in particular will chime with those readers who are interested in exploring the impact of European human rights law, and increasingly, European Union law and EU concepts of fundamental rights, on the way that contemporary policing must be conducted.

In summary, the book, as an edited volume, will no doubt be vital reading for policing accountability scholars across Europe, but particularly in the United Kingdom, given the reforms that have taken place to police accountability structures since 2010.

[1] See for example Julia Black, "Enrolling actors in regulatory systems: Examples from UK financial services regulation." Public Law 2003, Spring (2003): 63-91, p.65.

[2] R (Diedrick) v Chief Constable of Hampshire Constabulary and the Home Secretary [2012] EWHC 2144 (Admin): an unsuccessful challenge to the Home Office policy of devolution of discretion to force areas in relation to the question of recording ethnicity in police 'stop and accounts', using grounds of judicial review under the 'public sector equality duty' drawn from S. 149 Equality Act 2010.

[3] As the case of Ryneš v Úřad pro ochranu osobních údajů [2015] 1 W.L.R. 2607 before the Court of Justice of the European Union has shown; when the Court gave a distinctly new interpretation of the notion of the exemption from data processing regulations in the context of 'personal or household' use of video recording technology - to mean more literally domestic (on one's own property) as opposed to 'personal or household' to mean more broadly 'personal use in public spaces'.

[4] See the report Building the picture, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, July 2015