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
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".
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".
We welcome the commitment on behalf of the Government to addressing
as a priority the delays in the system.
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
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.
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".
A few examples were cited in the evidence we received where investigations
appeared to have moved unnecessarily slowly,
and the Police Federation noted that one reason for delay was
the pressure on financial resources.
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
and another racial equality group, The 1990 Trust,
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.
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.
Both ACPO and the Police Federation agreed that this change could
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,
but ACPO did criticise the PCA for their failures to achieve their
28 day target.
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.
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.
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:
TABLE C: Examples of delays in setting up
Force notified of PCA decision:
Months till hearing:
Reasons for delay:
'complainant not available'.
'problems of finding a date suitable to all witnesses and legal representatives'.
'time taken by force in serving the necessary papers'.
'complainant not available' followed by 'difficulties in finding suitable dates'.
'force seeking legal advice' and subsequent rejection by PCA of a suggested 'deal'.
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-and
there will clearly be difficulties when a lot of witnesses are
involved in one case.
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
Q 95 (ACPO); Appendix 14 (Birnberg & Co.) P. 4; paper by Susan
Caddick (para 3 of 'commentary') (see List of Unprinted Memoranda)). Back
692 and Q 763. Back
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
Annual Report of the PCA for 1992. Back
p. 2 (para 12). Back
for example memorandum from the Metropolitan branch of the Police
Federation Appendix 17. Back
3.5 (see List of Unprinted Memoranda). Back
10 para 61; Q 379. Back
15; Q 634. Back
see Appendix 8, para 3(d) (Police Federation). Back
10 para 47; Appendix 29. Back
487 (PCA); see also Q 100 (ACPO). Back