Misconduct in Public Office: New Law Reforms Proposed

The Law Commission has recommended that the offence of ‘misconduct in public office’ be reformed. The proposals include replacing the current offence with two new offences, and making these offences punishable with a maximum penalty of between 10 and 14 years’ imprisonment.

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Have you been accused of misconduct in public office? You need to speak to an experienced defence lawyer. Contact us now at Ashmans Solicitors for a free, confidential discussion. We are available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

What is misconduct in public office?

Misconduct in public office is not defined in any statute. It can generally be considered as any public officer who wilfully neglects their duties, or behaves improperly, without a reasonable excuse.

As it stands, there are a great many public officer holders throughout the UK. This includes judges, magistrates, police officers, MPs, as well as employees of local authorities, the NHS, state funded schools and public corporations.

The offence is currently punishable by life imprisonment.

Why is the offence being reformed?

According to the Law Commission, which is the body responsible for law reform, the offence of misconduct in public office is “widely considered to be ill-defined and has been subject to recent criticism by the Government, the Court of Appeal, the press and legal academics.”

Because of these issues, the Law Commission has recommended that the offence undergo reform. It has proposed a number of ways to update the legislation. Their final recommendations were published on 4 December 2020.

What does the Law Commission propose?

The Law Commission recommends four major changes:

  1. Replacing the current common law offence with two separate offences. These would be the ‘offence of corruption in public office’ and the ‘offence of breach of duty in public office’.
  2. Making the maximum penalty for both replacement offences between 10 and 14 years’ imprisonment
  3. Allowing for civil and disciplinary penalties in less serious offences
  4. Defining a list of positions that constitute a ‘public office’


Offence of corruption in public office

The new offence of corruption in public office would cover any public office holder who abuses their position of power, whether to achieve gain for themselves, or detriment to others. This behaviour would be considered seriously improper by a reasonable person. One example might be a police officer who uses their position to take sexual advantage of a vulnerable victim.

Offence of breach of duty in public office

The offence of breach of duty in public office would cover any public office holder who fails to meet their duty of care towards others, resulting in serious injury or death. Once example might be when a prison officer’s reckless behaviour directly results in the death of a prisoner/person being held in custody.


The Law Commission has recommended that a maximum penalty be introduced for both offences, and has suggested 10 to 14 years’ imprisonment is an appropriate range. In cases that do not warrant serious criminal sanction, the Law Commission has advised that civil disciplinary penalties should be made available.

Defining the scope of ‘public office’

Currently the list of ‘public office holders’ is extensive. The Law Commission recommends defining the position of public office. This would provide greater clarity as to who, exactly, falls under the scope of the new law. The Lord Chancellor would be able to amend the list of positions using an affirmative statutory instrument.

Criminal defence lawyers London

There are very few cases relating to misconduct in public office, with around less than 100 prosecutions each year. Even so, the consequences of a conviction can be severe, often resulting in the loss of employment, pension rights and even imprisonment. Any accusations of misconduct in public office should not, therefore, be taken lightly.

If you have been the subject of such allegations, please contact us immediately. We can represent you throughout proceedings. As specialist criminal defence lawyers, we will be monitoring developments in the law closely, ensuring we can offer the best possible service to our clients.

Call us now on 0333 009 6275. We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

You can also email us on enquiries@ashmanssolicitors.com or complete our Free Online Enquiry Form and we will contact you.