Behind policing by consent: The Peelian Principles

What are the Peelian Principles?

The Peelian Principles are a set of nine principles for policing that developed as the result of the ideas Sir Robert Peel used to underpin the professionalisation of policing in the 19th Century. 

The principles are:

  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 securing the willing co-operation of the public in the task of 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 exercising 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 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 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.

Who was Sir Robert Peel?

Sir Robert Peel served twice as a Prime Minister and twice as Home Secretary, and, among other achievements, is regarded as the founder of modern British policing as a result of his founding the Metropolitan Police Service. 

The principles he developed were in response to public resistance to the professionalisation of the police force.

What has been their impact?

Aside from underpinning the foundation of the Metropolitan Police, historians attribute the Peelian Principles to be the pillars of "policing by consent". As a result of these principles, the UK tends to have a different approach to some police duties, such as public order disruption and riots, as the UK does not have a standing riot police, nor do they use water cannons.

Are they still relevant today?

Yes. Policing by consent is a crucial aspect of how public safety and criminal justice is delivered.

Firstly, they govern how the police look to develop and drive new capabilities, either in terms of people or technology.

Secondly, they are worth reflecting upon as we see the debate around police visibility on the streets become more public. Drops in police numbers are a sad reality of today, but if the solution is too heavily based upon police visibility, we will lose sight of the ninth principle.

  • Jessica Russell

    Jessica Russell

    Programme Manager | Justice and Emergency Services
    T 020 7331 2031

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