Select Committee on Home Affairs First Report


  E: DELAYS IN THE PROCESS

134. Many witnesses emphasised that a major failing with the present procedures was that they could take too long. In some cases, the delays could be so long, we understand, that disciplinary proceedings risked being struck out as an abuse of process.[268] Delays can arise at every stage of the complaints and discipline process, and can result from sheer organisational or administrative delays, from legal rules, and from deliberate obstruction.

135. The Minister of State told us that he viewed this as the "greatest problem within the discipline system" and spoke of "quite intolerable delays in some circumstances".[269] He felt that we need to tighten up on the time at every stage, frankly, in order to make sure those officers who need to be dealt with are dealt with quickly and also those officers who are cleared by the process are cleared more quickly".[270] We welcome the commitment on behalf of the Government to addressing as a priority the delays in the system.

Administrative delays

136. We turn first to the administrative delays that can arise in the disciplinary and complaints process (with the exception of delays due to sickness of the accused officer, which we consider separately below). Delays can occur during the investigation of the complaint, during the consideration of the investigating officer's report, and in the setting up of a disciplinary hearing (if there is to be one). Delays can also arise in the consideration of an appeal although we received little evidence on this and it is less of an issue in terms of public confidence in the procedures since action will by that stage already have been taken against an officer.[271]

137. How to reduce delays has long been an issue. In 1992 a Statement of Intent was agreed between ACPO, the Inspectorate, the CPS and the PCA which set target times of 120 days for the police investigation (requiring application for an extension if the limit was to be exceeded), 28 days for consideration by the CPS of a case, and 28 days for consideration by the PCA of the disciplinary aspects of cases and notification of the decision to the complainant; 4 months was to be the target for the time taken from a decision to hold a hearing for the hearing to take place, with a six month maximum.[272] Exceptions or variations were provided for where there were other factors involved such as the CPS needing to take Counsel's opinion or cases affected by related court cases being sub judice.

138. Time taken on investigations: In evidence to our predecessor Committee in 1995, the PCA reported that while most forces then used the 120 day target some had adopted a 90 day target and concluded "Although complex inquiries can clearly take much longer, the Authority has no serious concerns about delays in the carrying out of investigations".[273] A few examples were cited in the evidence we received where investigations appeared to have moved unnecessarily slowly,[274] and the Police Federation noted that one reason for delay was the pressure on financial resources.[275]

139. Two specific points were drawn to our attention. The first was that the time taken could lead to the six month time limit for bringing summary charges being broken. This problem was mentioned by Commission for Racial Equality[276] and another racial equality group, The 1990 Trust,[277] who felt that some officers were escaping justice as a result. The Director of Public Prosecutions accepted that this could happen but told us that she did not think it was a widespread problem. She added that it was an issue with many other investigations, not just where the accused was a police officer, and that there were no straightforward solutions.[278]

140. The second point was that officers being investigated for possible disciplinary proceedings could insist on manual transcription of the interview. It was suggested by the PCA that there was nowadays no purpose to having handwritten reports of an interview, except as a means of delaying the process, and that such interviews should be tape recorded.[279] Both ACPO and the Police Federation agreed that this change could be made.[280] We agree that all disciplinary interviews should be tape recorded.

141. Delays by the CPS and the PCA: Little criticism was made in the evidence we received about the time taken by the CPS to consider reports,[281] but ACPO did criticise the PCA for their failures to achieve their 28 day target.[282] The PCA claimed that although they had had a bad period, when their average had slipped to 53 days, current cases were now taking around 33 days.[283] The PCA's figures included however consideration of applications by the police for dispensations from further investigation and not just the more important consideration of investigating officers' reports; ACPO estimated that the time taken over such reports alone was much higher.[284] We have not in this short inquiry examined what lies behind those delays by the PCA and how far they might be justified. We accept however that financial pressures will be part of the cause. Nevertheless it is clearly important that delays are minimised, and we urge the PCA to take steps to reduce substantially the delays in consideration of reports of investigations; performance figures for this, with separate figures for time taken over dispensation cases, should be published in the PCA's Annual Reports.

142. Setting up disciplinary hearings: As for the time taken to set up a disciplinary hearing, it was accepted that the targets were not always met and that there were some cases where very long delays indeed had taken place ... The PCA submitted brief details of a number of recent cases which had caused them concern as follows:[285]

TABLE C: Examples of delays in setting up disciplinary hearings

Force notified of PCA decision:

Months till hearing:

Reasons for delay:

Nov 96

13

'complainant not available'.

Nov 96

13

'problems of finding a date suitable to all witnesses and legal representatives'.

Oct 96

5

'time taken by force in serving the necessary papers'.

Apr 96

13

'complainant not available' followed by 'difficulties in finding suitable dates'.

Apr 96

10

'force seeking legal advice' and subsequent rejection by PCA of a suggested 'deal'.

Nov 95

24 (so far)

'disciplinary hearings suspended 'after new complaints required second investigation; followed by 'difficulties over the availability of legal representatives'.

Clearly not all these reasons for delays are bad reasons. Some hearings can be arranged quite quickly by comparison-less than two months[286]-and there will clearly be difficulties when a lot of witnesses are involved in one case.[287] Nevertheless it is clear that some cases are taking too long, and chief officers-who must accept the prime responsibility-must take further action to prevent this happening and to come within the six month target.

143. General: The question arises whether the target times laid down for the various stages should in some way be more binding or even mandatory. However, in so far as witnesses have commented on this at all, such an approach has not been supported. It has been accepted that individual cases are too different to allow for this; laying down firm limits for the investigation stage, for example, could mean that in particularly complex cases the investigation would be inadequately carried out. Nevertheless we feel that some steps should be taken to impress further on all parts of the system the importance of the process moving as fast as reasonably possible. We propose that, in respect of complaint cases, a written explanation should be sent to the complainant whenever one of the target time limits is exceeded.


268  See Q 95 (ACPO); Appendix 14 (Birnberg & Co.) P. 4; paper by Susan Caddick (para 3 of 'commentary') (see List of Unprinted Memoranda)). Back

269  Q 692 and Q 763. Back

270  Q 751. Back

271  Though the Minister of State noted that it was delays at this stage that come most frequently to his attention Q 751, and we understand that delays have on occasion exceeded 2 years. Back

272  See Annual Report of the PCA for 1992. Back

273  HC(1995-96)112 p. 2 (para 12). Back

274  See for example memorandum from the Metropolitan branch of the Police Federation Appendix 17. Back

275  Appendix 5. Back

276  Appendix 22. Back

277  Para 3.5 (see List of Unprinted Memoranda). Back

278  QQ 902-903. Back

279  Appendix 10 para 61; Q 379. Back

280  Q 15; Q 634. Back

281  Though see Appendix 8, para 3(d) (Police Federation). Back

282  Appendix 2. Back

283  Appendix 10 para 47; Appendix 29. Back

284  Appendix 3. Back

285  Appendix 29. Back

286  Q 487 (PCA); see also Q 100 (ACPO). Back

287  QQ 488-9. Back


 
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