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 Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

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 general consensus of support that follows from transparency about their powers, their integrity in exercising those powers and their accountability for doing so.[1][2][3]


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.[4][5]

Sir Robert Peel's principles[edit]

The concept of professional policing was taken up by Robert Peel when he became Home Secretary in 1822. 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.[6]

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:[7][8]

  • 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.[9]

Nine principles of policing[edit]

Nine principles were set out in the "General Instructions" issued to every new police officer in the Metropolitan Police from 1829.[1][10] 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.[7] 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.[1][10]

The nine principles were as follows:

  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 fulfill 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.

Policing by consent[edit]

The historian Charles Reith explained in his New Study of Police History (1956) that these 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".[1][11]

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."[1]

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.[12][13] Nonetheless, public order policing presents challenges to the approach of policing by consent.[14][15] 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.[16] 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.[17] Policing by consent remained a central consideration for police in the United Kingdom while enforcing temporary laws during the COVID-19 pandemic.[18][19]

The influence of this philosophy can still be found today in many parts of the Commonwealth of Nations, including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.[20][21][22] It is also seen in the police forces of the Crown dependencies and British Overseas Territories.[23] The concept has been applied to other countries as well.[24] The British model of policing influenced policing in the United States,[25][26] although some comment the US strayed away from the Peelian principles centuries ago.[27] American law-enforcement reformer William Bratton called them "my bible" in 2014,[28] but others commented in 2020 that the idea appears "increasingly theoretical".[29] While previously applied in Hong Kong, commentators say it may no longer apply.[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Policing by consent". UK Government. 10 December 2012. Retrieved 29 December 2013.
  2. ^ "Surveillance Camera Code of Practice" (PDF). UK Government Home Office. June 2013. p. 5. Retrieved 1 December 2013.
  3. ^ Jackson, Jonathan, Bradford, Ben, Hough, Mike and Murray, K. H., ‘Compliance with the law and policing by consent: notes on police and legal legitimacy,’ in: Crawford, Adam, and Hucklesby, Anthea, (eds.) Legitimacy and Compliance in Criminal Justice (London, UK : Routledge, 2012) pp. 29-49. ISBN 9780415671569
  4. ^ "Sir Robert Peel and the new Metropolitan Police". The National Archives. Retrieved 29 December 2013.
  5. ^ "Relations between the Police and Public". The Open University. Retrieved 2019-05-10.
  6. ^ "Metropolitan Police". UK Parliament. Retrieved 29 December 2013.
  7. ^ a b 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.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Terrill, Richard J. (2015). World Criminal Justice Systems: A Comparative Survey (revised ed.). Routledge. p. 32. ISBN 978-1317228820.
  10. ^ a b "Principles of Good Policing". The Institute for the Study of Civil Society. December 2015. Retrieved 7 October 2017.
  11. ^ Reith, Charles (1956). A New Study of Police History. London: Oliver & Boyd. p. 140.
  12. ^ Orde, Hugh (2011-05-05). "The British approach to policing protest". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-05-10.
  13. ^ 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."
  14. ^ Mead, David (2010-12-10). "Time to reconsider policing by consent? | David Mead". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-05-10.
  15. ^ 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
  16. ^ Sarah Lyall, "Critics Assail British Police for Harsh Tactics During the G-20 Summit Meeting", The New York Times, 30 May 2009.
  17. ^ Paul Lewis, Sandra Laville, "G20 report lays down the law to police on use of force", The Guardian, 25 November 2009.
  18. ^ "Police told to be 'consistent' on lockdown powers". BBC News. 2020-03-31. Retrieved 2020-03-31.
  19. ^ "Policing with Consent". London City Hall. 2020-10-22. Retrieved 2020-12-06.
  20. ^ de Lint, Willem (December 2004). "Public Order Policing in Canada" (PDF). p. 9. Retrieved 29 December 2013.
  21. ^ Goldsmith, Andrew (2001). "Police Power and Democracy in Australia". National Criminal Justice Reference Service. Retrieved 29 December 2013.
  22. ^ Buttle, John. "The Case Against Arming The New Zealand Police". Retrieved 29 December 2013. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  23. ^ Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services. "International and specialist agencies". Retrieved 2020-12-06.
  24. ^ "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. "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.
  25. ^ 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.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ Hussain, Mazin (2020-06-18). "This is why the police can kill you: America's dark history". Medium. Retrieved 2021-01-07. Unfortunately, the sad truth is that the US strayed away from the Peelian principles centuries ago. The earliest instances of policing in the US were the slave patrols.
  28. ^ "Sir Robert Peel's Nine Principles of Policing". The New York Times. 2014-04-16. Retrieved 2017-12-19.
  29. ^ Cole, Myke. "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.
  30. ^ "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.