Select Committee on Home Affairs First Report


Steps towards independence

81. As we have indicated above, we regard independent investigation as desirable in principle. However, we are not in a position to evaluate fully the practical feasibility of establishing an independent body in the short term, nor the different models of independent complaints bodies which exist elsewhere and which could provide a framework for such a body in England and Wales. A number of possibilities exist, including the transfer of all or part of the existing police expenditure on complaints, secondment of staff or some combination of these and other elements. Sir Paul Condon referred to a "menu" of possibilities which could be combined in a number of ways to produce different possible arrangements, though he noted that many of them by themselves would not necessarily convince the public that the system was more independent.[156] Whilst we hope that our other proposals for reform of the system will have some beneficial impact-if implemented-we recommend that the Home Office conduct a detailed feasibility study of different possible arrangements for an independent complaints investigation process. If the present system, as reformed, continues to enjoy only low credibility, then independent investigation will have to be considered. Independent investigation has, after all, been accepted by the Government for Northern Ireland, following the Hayes report. Although there are obvious differences between the situation in Northern Ireland and that in England and Wales, including different financial considerations, it is clearly a possible route to take. Meanwhile we think there are some steps in that direction which could be taken, drawing in part on some of the elements of the 'menu' of options referred to by Sir Paul Condon.

82. Liberty, while emphasising that their first choice would be a new fully independent investigatory body, put forward a compromise suggestion. They proposed a system whereby an independent body-financed in respect of running costs (though not start up costs) by a transfer of funds from police complaints budgets-might investigate only the serious cases, such as those which under the present system are supervised by the PCA;[157] there could be a pilot project, based on one region, as an initial step.[158] This would actually go a long way towards fully independent examination and goes further than we are ready to recommend at this stage. Nevertheless, it might be one of the options examined in the feasibility study for which we have called and we do not rule it out in the longer term.

83. One step which attracted significant support in the evidence we received was the idea that the PCA be authorised-and funded-to commission independent investigations where they felt particular expertise and skills might be required which would not otherwise be available to the inquiry. This is the model which was adopted by Parliament for the new Criminal Cases Review Commission. The Commission is in its first year of operation, so it is too soon to assess how effective the provision will be. ACPO representatives stated that they would have no problems with such an approach.[159] The PCA thought such a power would be useful, envisaging that it would be particularly helpful in cases where a multi-disciplinary approach was needed in an investigation, such as fraud cases.[160] We support this idea as a first step, and accordingly recommend that the PCA is given the power and the funds to commission independent investigation in cases where there is reason to believe that the existing process is proving inadequate. We note that the Minister of State, Mr Michael, appeared well disposed towards this proposal.[161]

84. Another measure would be to encourage greater use of outside police forces-i.e. a police force other than the one whose officers are under investigation. ACPO suggested this was now happening with increasing frequency, not least because forces' police authorities sometimes put pressure on Chief Constables to take this option.[162] Some non-police observers suggested this should be done more often; Inquest, for example, indicated that the Metropolitan Police did not do it as often as it might.[163] However, the PCA suggested that tight police budgets were making it more difficult to arrange investigations by outside forces because of the relative scarcity of officers of the right rank and calibre of who were also available at the time required, (though their Chairman added however that as yet no investigation had actually been delayed on this count).[164] It would be only a small step towards greater independence in investigation, but we recommend that investigation by an outside force should become a more regular occurrence than it is at present.

85. Another possibility raised in the evidence was that HM Inspectorate of Constabulary be given a greater role. We understand that this is the case in Scotland, where the Scottish Inspectorate has a review function with power to examine how a complaint has been handled and investigated by the police force concerned. However, the key difference is that there is no PCA or equivalent body in Scotland and this function of the Scottish Inspectorate is more akin to the PCA's role than to that of investigator. HM Inspectorate (for England, Wales and Northern Ireland) already has power to review a force's complaints and discipline procedures and performance. They were quite clear in their written evidence that they were not equipped to take on the primary investigative function and indeed that it would fundamentally weaken their ability to perform their existing statutory functions were they to be reformed to enable them to do so.[165] Both the Inspectorate and other witnesses doubted anyway whether the Inspectorate would give a significantly greater impression of independence than the existing system.[166]

86. Another area for possible development drawn to our attention was the role of police authorities. The Association of Police Authorities suggested that the present duty on authorities to keep themselves informed about the operation of the complaints process in practice depended on the voluntary cooperation of the Chief Constable, and that their role should be clarified and extended.[167] We have not examined the position of police authorities in any detail and we do not therefore have precise suggestions to make about reform, though it is clear that they occupy a position which could enable them to make a positive contribution to building up public confidence in the procedures. Nevertheless, as with the Inspectorate, it seems unlikely that giving them a greater role would materially alter the degree to which the public perceived the process as an independent one.

Independence and the Police Complaints Authority

87. We have discussed above the areas in which we consider that the disciplinary and complaints process needs greater independence from the police than the present system based on police investigation and PCA oversight. The question arises as to whether the independent body in this process should continue to be the Police Complaints Authority, or whether some new body is needed. We have made proposals for an independent complaints review body to have a greater role than does the PCA in the recording of complaints and in oversight of investigations where there has been no complaint. We have however stopped short, at this stage, of calling for a fully independent investigatory process, but have recommended certain steps in that direction. Against this background, we consider that, unless and until there is to be a totally new investigative body, fundamental change to the complaints process would be premature, though some changes to the PCA will nevertheless flow from the reforms we have proposed. We call for the PCA to make robust use of both its existing and its proposed new powers. We note that there have been suggestions that a change in the title of the body-so as to include the word 'independent' in some way-might be helpful in enabling it to explain its position and role to the public.

156  Q 954. Back

157  This might not be so very far from that proposed by Dr Hayes for Northern Ireland in the longer term: he envisaged that, after confidence in the process had been established by independent examination of all complaints, the new body should begin remitting minor complaints back to the police for investigation (Hayes report paras 13.42 ff). Back

158  Appendix 11; Q 327. Back

159  Q 53 ff. Back

160  Appendix 10 para 24; Q 416 ff. Back

161  QQ 720 and 732. Back

162  Q 50. Back

163  They cited the Brian Douglas, Wayne Douglas and Richard O'Brien cases as examples (Appendix 25 para 5); see also JUST TV (see List of Unprinted Memoranda). Back

164  Q 409; see also Appendix 10 para 22. Back

165  Appendix 16. Back

166  Appendix 16; Q 175 (Police Superintendents' Association) and Q 334 (Liberty). Back

167  Appendix 18, para 6. Back

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