The UK has the principle of "policing by consent".

This has become particularly relevant recently as The Metropolitan Police have become embroiled in multiple corruption scandals.

So my question is thus, does the principle have any meaningful legal weight? If it does, by what process could a particular community (as obviously it couldn't be a thing on a per-individual basis), for example London, withdraw its consent to be policed by The Met?

I suspect, as with most things in British Law, this is a principle only that falls apart as soon as anyone "bound" by it simply decides they don't want to (see the Sewel Convention and Brexit). I just don't have the legal background to verify this.

  • It isn't clear what you mean by "policiing by consent" in this context.
    – ohwilleke
    2 days ago

1 Answer 1


Yes and no

But it doesn’t mean what you think it means

Policing by consent is a shorthand way of referring to the Peelean principles traditionally ascribed to Sir Robert Peel at the founding of what became the Metropolitan Police. In summary:

  • 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 principles were set out in the ‘General Instructions’ that were issued to every new police officer from 1829. The acts, regulations and standing orders that police operate under today are expansions of those principles. They have the force of law in that an officer who violates the law can be punished or one that violates standing orders can be disciplined.

It refers to the fact that the police are part of the community, they are not an occupying army. It does not mean that any given individual or part of the community “consents” to be policed and may withdraw that consent. The community as a whole “consents” through Parliament by establishing police forces and the rules they operate under.

  • Your explanation of what the word "consent" means in this context does not quite match how NZ police presents it — while refering to the Peel's principles too. In defending their inactivity in certain local communities, they essentially say that it is up to the communities to consent to be policed or not.
    – Greendrake
    Feb 1, 2022 at 21:49
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    To emphasise a point from the linked article, which is not transparent in the answer: "there is no evidence of any link to Robert Peel and it was likely devised by the first Commissioners of Police of the Metropolis (Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne)." Feb 1, 2022 at 22:44
  • 2
    @Greendrake neither that article nor the one linked to it suggests that NZ police have any different understanding of what policing by consent. It does suggest that a far right MP doesn’t understand it but then, there’s not a lot they do understand.
    – Dale M
    Feb 2, 2022 at 7:25

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