Police officers who were forced to retire from Devon and Cornwall Police after 30 years in the service have won an employment tribunal claim for age discrimination.
Some 120 officers took action against the force after the former Police Authority decided in 2010 to invoke the pensions clause “Regulation A19”.
The measure has since been dropped but, at the time, Devon and Cornwall Police said it was the only way the force could save the £51 million budget cuts imposed by the Government.
The tribunal, which also involves officers from Nottinghamshire, West Midlands, North Wales and South Wales, was heard in February last year and reconvened in November for final legal arguments from both sides.
It emerged today that the panel of three employment judges had found that the use of A19 was “not a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.
Sergeant Nigel Rabbitts, chairman of the Police Federation in Devon and Cornwall, welcomed the ruling but expects the forces to appeal.
“We always said it wasn’t proportionate, that it was a blunt instrument and that it was basically unfair,” he said.
“We never disputed the regulation was there but we felt it was never designed for the way in which it was used.
"We wait to see what Devon and Cornwall, and the other forces, do to rectify this massive fault which has damaged a lot of peoples’ lives.”
Hundreds of officers were made to leave their jobs in the wake of the budget cuts, and claim they were indirectly discriminated against because of their age.
They were compelled to retire under Regulation A19, which means those below chief officer rank can be required to retire after 30 years “in the general interests of efficiency”.
The five police forces have 42 days to appeal the decision.
The Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales brought test cases on behalf of five members – one from each force.
National Secretary Graham Cassidy said: “We obviously are delighted with the decision by the employment tribunal and we note that it was a unanimous decision by all of the judges.
“However this is not a time for triumphalism. There are no winners here. Each of these five test cases represents a police officer at the peak of their service, all of them receiving outstanding annual appraisals for their performance, who were cast aside as a result of what we now know to be an unlawful application of A19.”
Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer said: “In 2010 it was necessary for the police authority to consider the use of Regulation A19 as a result of the wide ranging austerity measures affecting public services, in order to ensure that the force continued to provide an efficient and effective policing service.
“This was a very difficult decision for the authority and one which was taken after extensive consultation with officers and the relevant staff associations.
“Had the police authority considered any other options to be viable at the time this decision was made it would not have made the difficult decision to implement A19.
“This has been a lengthy hearing during which all parties involved have had an opportunity to explore the complicated legal issues that surround this regulation and the particular circumstances of each of the forces involved in the litigation.
“Prior to A19, along with other forces, we sought expert legal advice and from the very outset were confident our use of the regulation was lawful, fair and proportionate.
“We are considering the decision of the employment tribunal and will reflect and take advice on whether or not an appeal is appropriate. We are therefore unable to comment further at this time.”