Police sexual harassment claims to go ahead

A host of sexual harassment claims made by police officers look set to proceed following a decision by a Croydon Employment Tribunal in the case of Hands v the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

The Hands case clarifies that European law should be followed to ensure that police officers can bring claims under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (SDA). Previously there had been some confusion following a 2001 Employment Appeal Tribunal [EAT] decision.

In that case, Liversidge v Chief Constable of Bedfordshire Police, the EAT indicated that chief officers were not liable for sexual discrimination committed by their subordinates. Therefore officers who had suffered harassment by colleagues could not take legal action. As a result more than 100 claims were put on hold until the position was clarified.

The Hands decision will relate to claims made prior to July 2003. At that time, the SDA was amended to clarify the point that a chief officer is liable for sexually discriminatory behaviour by one police officer against another, in the same way that employers are responsible for discrimination by their employees.

However, the Hands case will mean that any claims that fell between the Liversidge decision and July 2003 can now go ahead.

Jan Berry, chairman of the police federation of England and Wales, said: “The changes to the law left a gap of nearly 22 months in which police officers were outside the protection of the harassment provisions of the SDA.

“We are delighted that Inspector Hands’ case has opened up the law for some of those officers,” Berry added. “We are only sorry that it has taken so long and that some cases have inevitably fallen by the wayside as officers have lost in the system.”