«Police complaints reform By Terry McGuinness in 2016 Inside: 1. Background 2. The current system 3. The need for reform 4. Reforming the police ...»
Number 7493, 3 February 2016
Police complaints reform By Terry McGuinness
2. The current system
3. The need for reform
4. Reforming the police complaints
5. Reform of the IPCC
www.parliament.uk/commons-library | intranet.parliament.uk/commons-library | firstname.lastname@example.org | @commonslibrary Number 7493, 3 February 2016 2 Contents Summary 3
1. Background 4
2. The current system 5
3. The need for reform 6
3.1 Home office review of police complaints system 6
3.2 Criticism of the IPCC 7
4. Reforming the police complaints system 9
4.1 A greater role for Police and Crime Commissioners 9 Structural changes to police complaints systems 9 Local resolution 10 Appeals 11
4.2 HMIC inspections 11
4.3 Changing the language 11 Widening the definition of complaint 11 Simplifying terms 12
4.4 Recording all complaints 12
4.5 Complaints from victims of crime 12
4.6 Super-complaints 13
5. Reform of the IPCC 14
5.1 Clarifying IPCC functions 14
5.2 Strengthening IPCC powers 15 Power of initiative 15 Determining complaints effectively 15 A wider range of remedies 16 Presenting cases
Cover page image copyright: Police by Charles Roffey. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 / image cropped.
3 Police complaints reform Summary The next stage in the Government’s ‘radical reform’ of policing in England and Wales is major changes to the police complaints system.
Its proposals are aimed at improving police integrity and boosting low public confidence in procedures that have proved confusing, frustrating and ineffective. It wants to make the system fairer, easier to understand and more transparent.
The current police complaints system is detailed in the Library briefing paper Police complaints systems in the UK.
A review conducted by the Home Office found the public and police officers alike had little faith in the current system. Complainants doubted grievances would be dealt with fairly or effectively. Police officers felt tied-up by vexatious complaints and unable to admit mistakes for fear of them being labelled as misconduct.
The Government’s proposals amount to significant structural change.
Directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) will come to the fore, determining how complaints are dealt with at a local level.
They will have discretion to choose whether to record and determine complaints themselves, or to supervise how their local police force exercises such functions. PCCs will also hear appeals against the handling of complaints deemed suitable for local resolution.
The goal of a more ‘complainant-focussed system’ will see changes to the language used, with the abandonment of confusing terms and the extension of the definition of ‘complaint’ to cover not only the conduct of individual police officers but policing practices and service failure as well. All complaints will now be recorded.
To respond to criticisms that the police complaints system does not listen to communities or groups affected by particular trends or habits in policing, the Government promises to import the ‘super-complaint’ concept from the worlds of financial regulation and consumer affairs.
NGOs and charities given super-complainant status will be empowered to lodge complaints as a means of raising systemic issues and ensuring all voices are heard.
Major change is planned for the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Whilst reforms to its structure are yet to be finalised, wholescale changes to allow it to conduct fully independent investigations may see it morph into an ombudsman-type body. To improve complainants’ experience and confidence, the Government want to give it powers to commence its own investigations, to determine complaints and to recommend a wider range of remedial actions.
Number 7493, 3 February 2016 4
1. Background Announcing a consultation on proposals to reform the police complaints and disciplinary system, the Home Secretary Theresa May said it marked the next stage in a programme of work aimed at ensuring the highest levels of integrity among police officers and staff.1
She referred to a number of changes already made:
The creation in December 2013 of the College of Policing’s Disapproved Register of officers who have been dismissed from the service The College of Policing’s new Code of Ethics, published in July The extra funds provided to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) to enable it to investigate all serious and sensitive cases involving the police The expansion of the remit of HM Inspectorate of Constabulary to assess not only forces’ efficiency and effectiveness but their legitimacy in the eyes of the public as well.
Such changes are part of an overhaul of policing structures the Government described as ‘the most comprehensive programme of police reform in memory’.2 This included the scrapping of national targets for the police, reforms to police pay and conditions, the introduction of directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs), the establishment of the National Crime Agency, changes to the remit of HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and the increase in the resources of the IPCC.
In July 2014 the Government announced a threefold approach to
improve standards of police integrity:
A review of the whole police disciplinary system to be led by Major General (Retd.) Chip Chapman;3 A consultation on proposals to strengthen protections for police whistle-blowers;4 A review of the entire police complaints system, including the local role played by PCCs and the role, powers and funding of the IPCC.
This briefing paper summarises the proposed reforms to the police complaints system and to the IPCC.
Home Office, Improving police integrity: reforming the police complaints and disciplinary systems, December 2014, foreword Ibid, para 1.10 Chip Chapman, An Independent Review of the Police Disciplinary System in England and Wales, October 2014 Home Office, Consultation on changes to the Police Disciplinary System: Holding disciplinary and appeal hearings in public, introducing legally-qualified chairs in disciplinary hearings, protecting whistleblowers and changes to chief officer compensation payments, November 2014 5 Police complaints reform
2. The current system The current police complaints system in England and Wales is detailed in the Library briefing paper Police complaints systems in the UK.
The Police Reform Act 2002 replaced the discredited Police Complaints Authority (PCA) with the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). The IPCC has a statutory duty to ensure public confidence in the complaints system is established and maintained.5 One key difference between the PCA and the IPCC is that the new body enjoys an investigatory capacity in its own right. Whilst the IPCC has increased the number of complaints it investigates, this remains only a tiny fraction of all complaints lodged. The vast majority of complaints are still investigated by the police force concerned.
Around a third of complaints will be dealt with by ‘local resolution’ – an informal procedure which might, for example, result in an explanation or apology.
Around half of complaints will be the subject of an investigation. Most of these investigations into complaints are conducted by the relevant force. Some of the more serious allegations may be investigated by a different force. The IPCC investigate only the most serious complaints itself. These investigations may be carried out by police forces under IPCC supervision or management.
The IPCC can also direct a police force that is investigating a complaint to refer the case to it.
The IPCC hears appeals against the findings of investigations into more serious complaints; chief officers hear other appeals against the findings of other investigations. The IPCC also hear appeals against decisions not to record a complaint, or against the results of local resolution.
There is no further right of appeal to the IPCC’s decision, or to chief officers’ decisions on those appeals which they hear. If a complainant remained unsatisfied and wanted to pursue the matter, they would have to seek redress through judicial review, and would need legal advice.
Complaints can be lodged in a variety of ways - with the relevant police force, with the local Police and Crime Commissioner (PCCs), with an MP or community group6 or with the IPCC itself.7 Aside from complaints about chief officers, there is currently no central role in the police complaints system for PCCs.
A complaint may be lodged on another’s behalf, but the legislation requires that written consent be secured.
Complaints lodged with the IPCC will be sent to the ‘appropriate authority’ for a
3. The need for reform Launching the consultation, the Government referred to ‘many high profile police failures that have called into question police practices and the integrity of some police officers’.8 It specifically identified the findings of the Hillsborough independent panel,9 the review by Mark Ellison QC10 into the police investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, the findings of Operation Herne11 into allegations that undercover officers were deployed against the Lawrence family, and HM Inspector of Constabulary reports into the misuse of stop and search powers as evidencing the need for reform.
3.1 Home office review of police complaints system This review of the entire police complaints system was an internal review conducted by the Home Office. Its findings are set out in
Chapter 2 of the Government consultation Improving police integrity:
reforming the police complaints and disciplinary systems. Amongst the
review findings were the following:
Elements of the police complaints system do not work efficiently or effectively.
Few of those involved with the system have confidence in its ability to operate effectively. Large numbers of members of the public do not believe that the system will respond to their complaints fairly or effectively.
Complaints take too long to resolve, either by local resolution or following the outcome of an investigation by either the police or the IPCC.
Those working in the system feel they spend too long dealing with persistent and vexatious complaints, limiting the amount of time they can devote to other, more legitimate complaints.
Police officers feel unable to admit to a mistake without fear of being subject to disciplinary proceedings.
Despite complaints against police in England and Wales reaching a record high for the second year running12 the Home Office found that most people dissatisfied with the police choose not to complain.13 Home Office, Improving police integrity: reforming the police complaints and disciplinary systems, December 2014, para 1.4 ‘The Report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel’, 12 September 2012, HC 581 The Stephen Lawrence Independent Review, ‘Possible corruption and the role of undercover policing in the Stephen Lawrence case’, 6 March 2014, HC 1094 Derbyshire Constabulary, ‘Operation Herne Report 2: Allegations of Peter Francis’, March 2014 ‘Police complaints reach record high in England and Wales’, BBC News, 7 October Home Office, Improving police integrity: reforming the police complaints and disciplinary systems, December 2014, para 2.12 7 Police complaints reform
3.2 Criticism of the IPCC An Independent editorial in March 2014 reviewed the IPCC’s first ten
In its 10 years of existence, the police watchdog has failed miserably to live up to even to the most meagre expectations.
Scandals in the police – the Met above all – have continued unabated, from the worrying number of unexplained deaths in police custody to highly questionable shootings of Azelle Rodney and Mark Duggan, the “plebgate” affair and the attempt to “smear” the family of Stephen Lawrence. Too often, little seems to be done to hold the miscreants behind these acts to account because the body charged with this task, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, is underfunded, toothless and even unwilling to act.14
The IPCC has attracted criticism from a wide range of people:
According to a BBC News article, police officers protest the ‘inordinate amount of time to get a decision’ and highlight the impact of anxiety and stress on officers’ careers and livelihoods whilst they wait for the IPCC findings.15 Inquest, representing bereaved families, identified an inability to ‘sustain the learning’ and a tendency to ‘slip back into its old ways’.16 The Home Affairs Select Committee found it overloaded with cases and ‘woefully under-equipped’, 17 leaving the public ‘frustrated and faithless’.
Ian Lavery MP dismissed as ‘a nonsense and a whitewash’ the IPCC’s decision in June 2015 not to start a formal investigation into allegations of criminal wrongdoing by police at Orgreave in 1984.18 In her evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee Dame Anne Owers, chairperson of the IPCC, acknowledged criticisms levied by police officers but asserted the ‘important thing’ is that the IPCC is ‘accurate, objective, credible and independent’.19 She spoke of a desire to have a ‘proper conversation’ with the families and communities affected by deaths following police contact.20 She called for more resources for the IPCC, reminding the committee that the IPCC sits at the ‘top of the pyramid’ in the police complaints system and a lack of ‘Reform of the ineffectual IPCC is long overdue’, the Independent, 16 March 2014 ‘Why the IPCC needs to win over its doubters’, BBC News, 14 July 2015
Home Affairs Committee, Independent Police Complaints Commission, 1 February 2013, HC 494 2012-13 ‘IPCC will not investigate Orgreave police action during miners' strike’, the Guardian, 12 June 2015 Home Affairs Committee, Independent Police Complaints Commission, 18 July 2012,