What is Policing by Consent ?

Policing by consent is a fundamental principle that underpins modern democratic societies. It is a concept rooted in the belief that the authority of the police derives from the consent and cooperation of the public they serve, as opposed to the power of the state.

It does not mean the consent of an individual. No individual can chose to withdraw their consent from the police, or from a law.

British policing is based on consent, meaning the ability of the police to carry out their functions rests on ‘public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour’

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The nine principles of policing by consent, often referred to as the Peelian principles, were articulated by Sir Robert Peel.

There is no evidence that these principles were devised by Sir Robert Peel and it more than likely that they were devised by the first Commissioners of Police of the Metropolis (Sir Charles Rowan and Sir Richard Mayne).

What are the Peelian Principles ?

  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.

Since 1829 these ‘General Instructions’ have been issued to every new police officer.  

History of Policing by Consent

The origins of policing by consent can be traced back to the early 19th century in England. Prior to this period, law enforcement was often characterised by a lack of professionalism, corruption, and arbitrary use of power.

In 1829, Sir Robert Peel introduced the Metropolitan Police Act, which established the Metropolitan Police in London. This act marked a significant shift in policing philosophy, emphasising the idea of police as a civilian force serving the community rather than a military presence.

To implement his vision, Sir Robert Peel appointed Sir Charles Rowan and Sir Richard Mayne as the first Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police. Rowan and Mayne were instrumental in establishing a professional police force based on Peel’s principles. They implemented rigorous recruitment standards, emphasised training and discipline, and ensured that the police operated under public scrutiny and consent.

Under the leadership of Rowan and Mayne, the Metropolitan Police successfully transformed the concept of policing in London. Their commitment to upholding the principles of policing by consent set a precedent that would influence police forces worldwide.

Sir Robert Peel

Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850) was a British statesman and is widely regarded as the founder of modern policing. Born in Bury, Lancashire, England, Peel had a distinguished political career and served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom twice, from 1834 to 1835 and from 1841 to 1846.

Peel is most renowned for his significant contributions to law enforcement and criminal justice reforms.

Peel’s reforms also included the establishment of the first detective force, the improvement of police training and professionalism, and the standardisation of police uniforms and equipment. His contributions to policing set the stage for the development of professional law enforcement agencies that focus on crime prevention, community engagement, and the protection of individual rights.

Beyond his work in law enforcement, Peel made other significant contributions to British politics. He was instrumental in the repeal of the Corn Laws, which were tariffs on imported grain that had protected British agriculture but contributed to high food prices for consumers. The repeal of these laws had a profound impact on British trade and economic development.

Sir Robert Peel’s legacy as a statesman and reformer, particularly in the field of policing, remains influential to this day. His principles continue to shape the foundations of modern law enforcement, emphasising the importance of community consent, accountability, and professionalism in the maintenance of public safety and order.

Sir Charles Rowan and Sir Richard Mayne

Sir Charles Rowan and Sir Richard Mayne were two key figures who played significant roles in the establishment and development of the Metropolitan Police in London, working closely with Sir Robert Peel. They were the first Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police, serving under Peel’s leadership and implementing his vision of professional policing.

Sir Charles Rowan (1782-1852) was a British soldier and police administrator. He was appointed as one of the two Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police when it was first established in 1829. Rowan brought his military experience and organisational skills to the role, contributing to the professionalisation and efficiency of the police force. He worked closely with Peel to implement reforms and ensure that the principles of policing by consent were upheld. Rowan’s emphasis on discipline, training, and strategic deployment of police resources helped shape the early foundations of the Metropolitan Police.

Sir Richard Mayne (1796-1868) was a British lawyer and civil servant. He also served as one of the original Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police alongside Rowan. Mayne, known for his administrative abilities, played a crucial role in developing the infrastructure and operations of the police force. He focused on establishing clear guidelines, procedures, and protocols for police officers, ensuring that they operated within the framework of the law and maintained public trust. Mayne’s contributions helped to solidify the principles of accountability, impartiality, and transparency within the Metropolitan Police.

Rowan and Mayne worked collaboratively to shape the structure and functioning of the Metropolitan Police. They were responsible for recruiting and training officers, establishing a hierarchical command structure, and implementing policies that aligned with Peel’s principles.

Their efforts were instrumental in the successful establishment of a professional and civilian police force in London, setting a standard for policing practices that influenced law enforcement agencies both in the United Kingdom and internationally.

Policing by Consent around the World

Here are some examples of how the Peelian principles of policing by consent have influenced policing globally:-

  1. The principles of policing by consent have had a profound influence on law enforcement practices in the United States. Many police departments strive to build positive relationships with the communities they serve, engaging in community-oriented policing initiatives, implementing transparency measures, and emphasising de-escalation techniques. The principles have also informed the development of professional standards and training programs for officers.
  2. Australian police forces have embraced the Peelian principles as a foundation for their operations. Community engagement, collaboration, and accountability are emphasised in Australian policing, with efforts made to build trust and partnerships with the diverse communities across the country. The principles have guided the development of community policing programs and the adoption of ethical standards.
  3. Policing in Canada is influenced by the Peelian principles, particularly in terms of community engagement and accountability. Canadian police agencies have adopted community policing strategies, emphasising the importance of building relationships, problem-solving, and preventative measures. The principles also guide the training and professional conduct of Canadian police officers.
  4. The Peelian principles have shaped the philosophy of policing in New Zealand. The New Zealand Police explicitly incorporate the principles into their values and code of conduct. The focus on community engagement, proactive policing, and respect for human rights aligns with the Peelian principles. New Zealand Police have also emphasised the importance of building trust and legitimacy through transparency and accountability.
  5. Policing in various European countries has been influenced by the Peelian principles. Concepts such as community policing, the protection of individual rights, and the need for police legitimacy are prevalent across European police forces. Efforts are made to establish partnerships with communities, promote equality and impartiality, and maintain transparency in police operations.

It’s important to note that while the Peelian principles have had a broad impact on policing worldwide, the specific application and implementation may vary across different countries, taking into account local laws and cultures.

Nonetheless, the principles continue to shape the ongoing development of modern policing, emphasising the importance of maintaining public trust and collaboration with the communities they serve.

Check out our articles on Police News, Met Police, Sussex Police, State of Policing Report 2022 and the Loss of Public Trust and the highly questionable Sussex Family Justice Board.

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