Peelian principles

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The Peelian principles summarise the ideas that Sir Robert Peel developed to define an ethical police force. The approach expressed in these principles is commonly known as policing by consent in the United Kingdom and other countries such as Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand.[citation needed]

In this model of policing, police officers are regarded as citizens in uniform. They exercise their powers to police their fellow citizens with the implicit consent of those fellow citizens. "Policing by consent" indicates that the legitimacy of policing in the eyes of the public is based upon a consensus of support that follows from transparency about their powers, their integrity in exercising those powers and their accountability for doing so.

Historical background[edit]

The Peterloo massacre, depicted here by Richard Carlile in 1819, was one of the conflicts between the people and the authorities in Britain before the Peelian principles were adopted.

In early 19th-century Britain, attempts by the government to set up a police force for London were met with opposition. People were suspicious of the idea of a large and possibly armed police force, and feared that it could be used to suppress protest or support unpopular rule. Since 1793 Britain had been at war with France, home of the best-known, best-organised and best-paid police force at the time, as well as a secret and political police force, and many Britons were uncomfortable with any police force's association with France. Most people did not think that it was the job of the national government to set up and control a police force, and thought it should be under local control.[1][2]

Following the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1816, several factors drove the country into a severe depression. The increased industrialisation of the country, combined with the demobilisation of the forces, led to mass unemployment. The Corn Laws led to massive increases in the price of bread, while the repeal of income tax meant that the war debt had to be recovered by taxing commodities forcing their prices even higher. In addition, 1817 was unusually wet and cold, producing a very poor harvest. This led to the so-called Pentrich rising, for which three men were hanged and beheaded at Derby Gaol.[3]

The 1819 Peterloo Massacre in St Peter's Field, Manchester occurred when at least eighteen died after 60,000 people who had gathered to stand up for universal suffrage (amongst other ideas) were overrun by multiple cavalry charges. This was followed by the 1820 Yorkshire West Riding Revolt and the 1821 Cinderloo Uprising, the latter of which resulted in two deaths and one man hanged subsequently.[4] It was against this background that Peel said that "though emancipation was a great danger, civil strife was a greater danger" and thus the principles known as Peel's were developed.[5]

Sir Robert Peel's principles[edit]


London in the early 19th century had a population of nearly a million and a half people but was policed by only 450 constables and 4,500 night watchmen who belonged to many separate organisations.[1] Several parliamentary committees examined the policing of London and made proposals to help evolve the existing state of affairs.[6] The concept of professional policing was taken up by Robert Peel when he became Home Secretary in 1822, emphasising a rigorous and less discretionary approach to law enforcement. Peel's Metropolitan Police Act 1829 established a full-time, professional and centrally-organised police force for the Greater London area, known as the Metropolitan Police.[7][8]

The Peelian principles describe the philosophy that Sir Robert Peel developed to define an ethical police force. The principles traditionally ascribed to Peel state that:[9][10]

  • Whether the police are effective is not measured on the number of arrests, but on the lack of crime.
  • Above all else, an effective authority figure knows trust and accountability are paramount. Hence, Peel's most often quoted principle that "The police are the public and the public are the police."

The Metropolitan Police officers were often referred to as 'Bobbies' after Sir Robert (Bobby) Peel, and are regarded as the first modern police force.[7]

The nine principles of policing[edit]

The nine principles of policing originated from the "General Instructions" issued to every new police officer in the Metropolitan Police from 1829.[11][12] Although Peel discussed the spirit of some of these principles in his speeches and other communications, the historians Susan Lentz and Robert Chaires found no proof that he compiled a formal list.[9] The Home Office has suggested that the instructions were probably written, not by Peel himself, but by Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne, the joint Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police when it was founded.[11][12]

Those general principles were later distilled into nine points by Charles Reith in his 1948 book A Short History of the British Police and it is in this form they are usually cited:[9][11][12]

  1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.
  2. To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.
  3. To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.
  4. To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.
  5. To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour, and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.
  6. To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.
  7. To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
  8. To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.
  9. To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.


The presence of police officers on the streets of London, a new symbol of state power, raised questions about police legitimacy from the outset. The government sought to avoid any suggestion that the police was a military force, so they were not armed. Nor was their uniform anything like military uniform.[1][13]

At the time, local government had a much more significant role in the day-to-day life of citizens. Initially, many sections of society were opposed to the 'new' police. Uncertainty about what they could and could not do was responsible for many of the early complaints about the police.[1][13]

Officers acted as a unique point of contact between the state and the wider public. The legitimacy of this expanded state power was reflected in public opinion about the police. As the nineteenth century progressed, the police were viewed in a more favourable light by many sections of society. Still, even in the twentieth century, tensions remained.[1][13]

Policing by consent[edit]

Co-operation between police and public in post-war London, ca.1948

Public co-operation[edit]

The historian Charles Reith explained in his New Study of Police History (1956) that Sir Robert Peel's principles constituted an approach to policing "unique in history and throughout the world, because it derived, not from fear, but almost exclusively from public co-operation with the police, induced by them designedly by behaviour which secures and maintains for them the approval, respect and affection of the public".[11][14]

The UK government Home Office in 2012 explained policing by consent as "the power of the police coming from the common consent of the public, as opposed to the power of the state. It does not mean the consent of an individual" and added an additional statement outside of the Peelian principles: "No individual can choose to withdraw his or her consent from the police, or from a law."[11] The Home Office defined the legitimacy of policing, in the eyes of the public, as based upon a general consensus of support that follows from transparency about their powers, their integrity in exercising those powers and their accountability for doing so.[15]

A study in 2021 described the notion of policing by consent in three terms: "that the police are 'citizens in uniform'; that the primary duty of the police is to the public, not the state; and that the use of force is a last resort."[16] Another study contrasts policing by consent with 'policing by law' and states: "Even though the basic premise of policing in UK is by consent, the British Police system as it exists now is more a reverse process of investing more power in people by law, than policing by consent. As such, the policing in UK has now become policing by law, but a law which mandates a police which is accountable to public."[17]

International influence[edit]

The influence of this philosophy can still be found today in many parts of the Commonwealth of Nations, including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.[18][19][20] It is also seen in the police forces of the Crown dependencies and British Overseas Territories.[21] The British model of policing influenced policing in the United States;[22][23] the principles informed the American community policing movement in the 1960s and are still a component of more recent policing doctrine.[24] American law-enforcement reformer William Bratton called them "my bible" in 2014,[25] but others commented in 2020 that the application of the principles in the US appears "increasingly theoretical".[24] The term is sometimes applied to describe policing in the Republic of Ireland,[26][27] and in Northern Ireland.[28] While Hong Kong was a British colony, and for a time afterwards, the concept of policing by consent was applied, but that approach has since faded out.[29] The concept has been applied to other countries as well, whose police forces are routinely unarmed.[30]

Some countries, such as Finland, Norway and other Nordic countries developed a consensual model of policing independently of the Peelian principles.[31][32][33]

Public-order policing[edit]

The principle of consent has led to a distinctive approach to public-order policing, as here at the G20 protests in London in 2009.[34][35]

As a result of the tradition of policing by consent, the United Kingdom has a different approach to policing public-order crime, such as riots, as compared to other western countries, such as France.[34][35] Nonetheless, public order policing presents challenges to the approach of policing by consent.[36][37] The death of Ian Tomlinson after being struck by a police officer during the 2009 G-20 summit protests sparked a debate in the UK about the relationship between the police, media and public, and the independence of the Independent Police Complaints Commission.[38] In response to the concerns, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Denis O'Connor, published a 150-page report in November 2009 that aimed to restore Britain's consent-based model of policing.[39]

Policing by consent remained a central consideration for police in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland while enforcing temporary laws during the COVID-19 pandemic.[40][41][42][43][44]

Police use of firearms[edit]

Calls for the routine arming of police officers with firearms have consistently been resisted in the United Kingdom. With a long history of unarmed policing, police use of firearms in the United Kingdom is much more limited than in many other countries. The UK is one of only 19 nations which have police forces that are routinely unarmed; these countries also have comparatively restrictive rules on civilian gun ownership.[30][45] The increased use of tasers in the UK was recognised as a fundamental shift in policing,[46] and criticised as damaging policing by consent.[47] One study wrote that the "fact that officers operate largely unarmed is a key tenet and manifestation of [policing by consent]."[16] Terror attacks in the UK and Europe have led to increased deployment of firearms officers; the same study found more negative responses in the UK to police when they are armed.[16] In Finland, police are armed but may not fire without direct permission, that is, they are armed but not by default authorised.[30]

Training of police officers[edit]

In Finland and Norway, two countries with an emphasis on a consent-based model of policing, recruits study at national colleges and spend time on an internship with local police, in addition to earning degrees in criminal justice or related fields.[45] In these two countries, there are rigorous rules about what is considered justified use of force.[48]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Sir Robert Peel and the new Metropolitan Police". The National Archives. Retrieved 29 December 2013.
  2. ^ "Relations between the Police and Public". The Open University. Retrieved 2019-05-10.
  3. ^ Cooper, Brian (1983). Transformation of a Valley: The Derbyshire Derwent. Heinemann.
  4. ^ "Protest and democracy 1818 to 1820, part 2 How close was Britain to revolution?". The National Archives. UK Government. Retrieved 22 July 2019.
  5. ^ Peel, Arthur George Villiers (1895). "Peel, Robert (1788-1850)" . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 44. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  6. ^ Fraser, Mary (2018-12-07). Policing the Home Front 1914-1918: The control of the British population at war. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-351-34556-9.
  7. ^ a b Terrill, Richard J. (2015). World Criminal Justice Systems: A Comparative Survey (revised ed.). Routledge. p. 32. ISBN 978-1317228820.
  8. ^ "Metropolitan Police". UK Parliament. Retrieved 29 December 2013.
  9. ^ a b c Lentz, Susan A.; Chaires, Robert H. (2007). "The Invention of Peel's Principles: A Study of Policing "Textbook" History". Journal of Criminal Justice. 35 (1): 69–79. doi:10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2006.11.016.
  10. ^ The Committee Office, House of Commons. "House of Commons - HC 1456 Home Affairs Committee: Written evidence submitted by the National Black Police Association (NBPA)". Retrieved 2020-06-14.
  11. ^ a b c d e "Policing by consent". UK Government Home Office. 10 December 2012. Retrieved 29 December 2013.
  12. ^ a b c "Principles of Good Policing". The Institute for the Study of Civil Society. December 2015. Retrieved 7 October 2017.
  13. ^ a b c "Police-Public Relations: Introduction". Retrieved 2021-06-25.
  14. ^ Reith, Charles (1956). A New Study of Police History. London: Oliver & Boyd. p. 140.
  15. ^ "Surveillance Camera Code of Practice" (PDF). UK Government Home Office. June 2013. p. 5. Retrieved 1 December 2013.
  16. ^ a b c Yesberg, Julia A.; Bradford, Ben; Dawson, Paul (2021-03-01). "An experimental study of responses to armed police in Great Britain". Journal of Experimental Criminology. 17 (1): 1–13. doi:10.1007/s11292-019-09408-8. ISSN 1572-8315. S2CID 213848947. The ideology of British policing rests on the notion of 'policing by consent': that the police are 'citizens in uniform'; that the primary duty of the police is to the public, not the state; and that the use of force is a last resort. The fact that officers operate largely unarmed is a key tenet and manifestation of this ideology. Yet, despite the long history of unarmed policing, recent terror attacks in the UK and Europe and a putative rise in serious violent crime have led to increased deployment of firearms officers and calls for the routine arming of more police.
  17. ^ Varghese, John (2010). "Police Structure: A Comparative Study of Policing Models". SSRN Electronic Journal. doi:10.2139/ssrn.1605290. ISSN 1556-5068.
  18. ^ de Lint, Willem (December 2004). "Public Order Policing in Canada" (PDF). p. 9. Retrieved 29 December 2013.
  19. ^ Goldsmith, Andrew (2001). "Police Power and Democracy in Australia". National Criminal Justice Reference Service. Retrieved 29 December 2013.
  20. ^ Buttle, John. "The Case Against Arming The New Zealand Police". Retrieved 29 December 2013 {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help); Greener, Bethan (23 February 2021). "Policing by consent is not 'woke' — it is fundamental to a democratic society". The Conversation. Retrieved 2021-06-24.
  21. ^ Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services. "International and specialist agencies". Retrieved 2020-12-06.
  22. ^ Dempsey, John S.; Forst, Linda S. (2015). An Introduction to Policing (8 ed.). Cengage Learning. pp. 6–8. ISBN 978-1305544680. Many believe that the English model of policing eventually became the model for the United States.
  23. ^ Archbold, Carol A. (2013). Policing (PDF). Sage Publication. ISBN 9781412993692. Sir Robert Peel ... identified several principles that he believed would lead to credibility with citizens ... Many of these ideologies were also adopted by American police agencies during this time period and remain in place in some contemporary police agencies across the United States.
  24. ^ a b Cole, Myke (6 May 2020). "America's Police Prepared for the Wrong Enemy". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 2021-01-07. Peelian principles form the heart of the American community policing movement, which began with the Johnson administration's efforts in the 1960s and is still an important component of policing doctrine today. But in 2020, the idea appears increasingly theoretical.
  25. ^ "Sir Robert Peel's Nine Principles of Policing". The New York Times. 2014-04-16. Retrieved 2017-12-19.
  26. ^ "Ireland". Retrieved 2022-01-25. At the heart of this process is the concept of policing by consent.
  27. ^ Hamilton, Claire; Black, Lynsey (2021-10-26). "'Strikingly and stubbornly high': Investigating the paradox of public confidence in the Irish police". European Journal of Criminology. 20 (4): 1464–1483. doi:10.1177/14773708211046194. ISSN 1477-3708. S2CID 240046774. the absence of a tradition of policing by consent
  28. ^ Davies, Gemma (2020-12-07). "Facilitating Cross-Border Criminal Justice Cooperation Between the UK and Ireland After Brexit: 'Keeping the Lights On' to Ensure the Safety of the Common Travel Area". The Journal of Criminal Law. 85 (2): 77–97. doi:10.1177/0022018320977528. ISSN 0022-0183. S2CID 230605266. The priority here has been to embed an inclusive and community-based form of policing by consent
  29. ^ "How Peel Street reminds of principles still relevant to policing in Hong Kong". South China Morning Post. 2015-01-06. Retrieved 2020-12-05; "'Partnership with Our Community' symposium hosted by Hong Kong Police in partnership with the Centre for Criminology, University of Hong Kong" (PDF). 30 November 2016. We can only perform our duties effectively, if we have the trust, confidence and collective support of the community we seek to serve. In this regard, 'policing by consent' requires a degree of legitimacy that can only be achieved from the public at large when they are confident in the transparency of our powers, the integrity of our officers and the accountability of our actions.; "In city under siege, can police force rise to repair image?". South China Morning Post. 2020-03-31. Retrieved 2020-12-05; "APPG on Hong Kong finds Hong Kong police "indisputably" broke international human rights laws". Whitehouse. 2020-08-04. Retrieved 2020-12-05. Traditionally, the idea of policing by consent was absolutely central to the operation of the Hong Kong Police Force. But this idea has been lost.
  30. ^ a b c "What the U.S Can Learn from Countries Where Cops Are Unarmed". Time. Retrieved 2020-12-05. While the 19 nations in the world that do not arm officers vary greatly in their approach to policing, they share a common thread. "What we can identify in these countries is that people have a tradition—and an expectation—that officers will police by consent rather than with the threat of force," says Guðmundur Ævar Oddsson, associate professor of sociology at Iceland's University of Akureyri who specializes in class inequality and forms of social control such as policing.; Kara Fox, CNN Graphics by Henrik Pettersson (19 July 2017). "How US gun culture compares with the world". CNN. Retrieved 2020-12-05. a small club of 19 nations do not routinely arm their police forces ... Botswana, Cook Islands, Fiji, Iceland, Ireland, Kiribati, Malawi, Marshall Islands, Naru, New Zealand, Niue, Norway, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, the United Kingdom (Northern Ireland excepted), Vanuatu, U.S. Virgin Islands. {{cite web}}: |author= has generic name (help)
  31. ^ Høigård, Cecilie (2011-08-01). "Policing the North". Crime and Justice. 40: 265–348. doi:10.1086/659840. ISSN 0192-3234. S2CID 144163532.
  32. ^ Phone, Visiting address Domus BibliothecaKarl Johans gate 47 0162 OSLO Norway Mail address P. O. box 6706 St Olavs plass 0130 OSLO Norway; fax. "Seminar: Policing the Nordic Countries in the 21st Century - Department of Public and International Law". Retrieved 2021-07-04.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  33. ^ Lappi-Seppälä, Tapio; Tonry, Michael (2011). "Crime, Criminal Justice, and Criminology in the Nordic Countries". Crime and Justice. 40 (1): 1–32. doi:10.1086/660822. ISSN 0192-3234. JSTOR 10.1086/660822. S2CID 144603070.
  34. ^ a b Orde, Hugh (2011-05-05). "The British approach to policing protest". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-05-10.
  35. ^ a b Jordan, Mark (30 July 2012). Contextualising and Comparing the Policing of Public Order in France and Britain (PDF) (PhD thesis). Cardiff University. "The main conclusions drawn from this research lie in the differences of histories, structures and traditions manifest in the central national institutions of France, and the devolved community based approach of the British. The tensions apparent in both states lie between the relevance of Republican Ideals or Peelian Principles respectively and their social realities."
  36. ^ Mead, David (2010-12-10). "Time to reconsider policing by consent? | David Mead". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-05-10.
  37. ^ Grace, Jamie (2018-05-08). "A balance of rights and protections in public order policing: A case study on Rotherham". European Journal of Current Legal Issues. 24 (1). ISSN 2059-0881. It is of course a vital element of police legitimacy, based on the theory 'policing by consent' that predominates in the UK context, that public protest is policed impartially, and in a politically neutral manner
  38. ^ Sarah Lyall, "Critics Assail British Police for Harsh Tactics During the G-20 Summit Meeting", The New York Times, 30 May 2009.
  39. ^ Paul Lewis, Sandra Laville, "G20 report lays down the law to police on use of force", The Guardian, 25 November 2009.
  40. ^ "Police told to be 'consistent' on lockdown powers". BBC News. 2020-03-31. Retrieved 2020-03-31.
  41. ^ Desai AM, Unmesh (October 2020). "Policing with Consent". London City Hall. London Assembly Labour. Retrieved 2020-12-06.
  42. ^ "Policing by consent is crucial during lockdown". Gloucestershire's Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner. 2020-04-23. Retrieved 2021-06-24.
  43. ^ "Coronavirus (COVID-19): international policing responses - part 1 - during lockdown". Retrieved 2022-01-25.
  44. ^ "Coronavirus (COVID-19): international policing responses - part 1 - during lockdown". Retrieved 2022-01-25. Based on its tradition of policing by consent
  45. ^ a b "What Are Police Like in Other Countries?". Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved 2021-06-28.
  46. ^ "House of Commons - Policing of the G20 Protests - Home Affairs Committee". Retrieved 2021-06-28. The decision to extend the deployment of Conducted Energy Devices to some non-firearms officers, and the training they receive, should be kept under review. The use of this weapon on a general scale poses many issues regarding public safety and more widespread use of Tasers would also represent a fundamental shift between the police and the general public. British policing is based on consent and face-to-face engagement, the use of Taser has the potential to erode that relationship and create a rift between the police and the policed. Furthermore, we would not endorse any move to authorise its wider use beyond dealing with a violent threat.
  47. ^ "Police chiefs criticise £10m Taser rollout". The Guardian. 2019-09-27. Retrieved 2021-06-28.
  48. ^ "How US police training compares with the rest of the world". BBC News. 2021-05-17. Retrieved 2021-06-28.

Further reading[edit]