Home Office appeals over ruling blocking West Midlands policing powers merger

The Home Office is bringing a Court of Appeal challenge against a judge’s ruling that blocked plans to transfer policing powers in the West Midlands.

The outcome of the appeal bid will help determine whether or not an election for a police and crime commissioner for the region goes ahead in May.

At a hearing on Friday, lawyers representing the Home Secretary argued that a High Court judgment earlier this week was wrong to quash a decision to merge the PCC’s powers into the role of the area’s elected mayor – a position held by Conservative Andy Street.

Mr Justice Swift concluded that the Home Office had not provided sufficient information when consulting over its plans.

HS2 project
Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street (Jacob King/PA)

The judge rejected Mr Foster’s claim that Home Secretary James Cleverly had approached the consultation with a “closed mind”, but said information provided was “perfunctory” and proposed benefits were “left entirely unexplained”.

Mr Foster has labelled the merger plans a “hostile takeover” and “cynical power grab”, while the Government argues the consolidation of powers “offers a better scope for preventing crime”.

Alan Payne KC, for the Home Office, said in written arguments that an order over the transfer of powers had been passed by Parliament and, if found to be lawful, needs to be in force before West Midlands elections are announced – with the latest date being March 25.

The barrister told the court in London that Mr Justice Swift took an “incorrect” approach and had an “over-exacting understanding” of what a lawful consultation required.

He said the judge had not placed enough weight on the Home Secretary’s “discretion” to set the three consultation questions, adding that “the level of responses very much suggest that those consulted were able to participate in an informed manner”.

Mr Payne said there had been “merit in asking simple, open questions about a proposal” where the benefits “could not be measured by reference to specific monetised benefits, or specific ‘economic, social or environmental’ factors”.

James Stansfeld, representing Mr Foster, said in written arguments the appeal should be dismissed and that Mr Justice Swift was “unarguably correct”.

“The broad and unexplained benefits… of the consultation were woefully inadequate in providing sufficient information to enable meaningful public participation in the decision-making process,” the lawyer said.

He said: “The consultation fails to ask a single question about how the consultees consider a transfer would affect the ‘economic, social and environmental well-being’ of those living and working in the West Midlands and there is no question as to views on the impact of the decision on the effectiveness and convenience of local government.”

Mr Stansfeld said consultees should have been told that the decision would allegedly mean increased election costs for the West Midlands Combined Authority estimated to be between £1.3 and £3 million.

Elected PCCs set their local police force’s budget, decide what crimes it should prioritise, can fire and hire the chief constable and aim to make sure they are accountable to the communities they serve.

The hearing before Lady Justice Nicola Davies, Lord Justice Dingemans and Lord Justice Lewis continues.

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