There has been significant press coverage in recent weeks devoted to the forthcoming elections for the posts of Police Commissioner which will be held in November this year.
Much of the controversy has surrounded juvenile convictions and the fact that several high-profile and able candidates have been unable to stand for election because of previous convictions, in some cases from as far back as 40 years ago.
However, despite the uproar, many are still unaware of exactly what Police Commissioners are and what their role will be in the law and order setup.
Police and Crime Commissioners were created by the Coalition Government in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. The aim of the new posts is to reform the accountability of police forces in England and Wales.
Under the proposals the 41 forces outside London will hold elections for the role of Police and Crime Commissioners in ballots which are to be held on 15 November 2012. The new Police and Crime Commissioners will replace the existing police authority framework.
The main functions of Police and Crime Commissioners will be to maintain efficient and effective policing in forces around England and Wales (London is excluded from the proposals). The Commissioners will be responsible for appointing and dismissing the Chief Constable in their given area and the Chief Constable will be accountable to the Commissioner for the implementation of the police and crime plan.
The new Commissioners will also be responsible for the budget for their particular area, known as the 'police fund', which will be raised from council tax.
Holding the Commissioners to account
The Police and Crime Commissioners will be themselves accountable to a Police and Crime Panel, which will comprise one representative from the local authority and two independent members. The Panels will scrutinise the work of the Commissioner and will ensure that information on the force is available to the public.
The Police and Crime Panels will be empowered to call the Commissioner to account and will have the power to suspend a Commissioner or any member of their staff if they commit a serious criminal offence. They will also be able to veto any decision by the Commissioner will a two thirds majority.
The election process to the posts has been mired in controversy after several candidates were forced to withdraw from the running due to juvenile offences.
Alan Charles, who was a candidate for the role in Derbyshire, withdrew after being told that his conviction for a minor offence nearly 50 years ago when he was 14 years old would preclude him from running for office.
Rethink the rules
The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners Transitional Board (APCC) is overseeing the transition from police authorities to the new Police and Crime Commissioner roles. They believe that ministers need to rethink the rules on who can apply to avoid losing more suitable candidates.
The chair of the APCC, Simon Duckworth, believes that the Government had not fully considered the impact of failing to distinguish between juvenile and adult offences when drafting the rules.
"It does seem to be an anomaly where a juvenile offence committed many years ago would disqualify someone who has served the community and the public over a number of years," Mr Duckworth told the BBC.
It is thought that the law cannot be changed in time for the deadline for the official registration of candidates which is on 19 October.
"It is a great shame for a number of obviously very worthy candidates but we will be doing what we can to discuss with the Government a way of moving this on in time for the next elections in 2016," he added, in an interview with the BBC.
The Government defended the rules, stating that they were deliberately tough to ensure that the public had absolute confidence in the candidates elected to this important role overseeing law and order in large regions of the country.
Magistrates need not resign to apply
Last week it was confirmed that presiding magistrates wishing to run for the new posts would be allowed to do so without resigning from the bench.
Lord Justice Goldring confirmed that magistrates could remain on the bench during the election period, providing they agreed not to sit during the election and to resign if they are then elected to the post.
Judge backs down on magistrates standing as police commissioners (The Telegraph)
Police and crime commissioners (The Home Office)