Select Committee on Home Affairs First Report


184. It is clear from the evidence that we have received that police complaints and disciplinary procedures are inadequate both to ensure effective management and to command public confidence. Although we differ on some details, the Committee has unanimously concluded that this situation needs to be tackled robustly. We have identified a series of changes to existing procedures and other measures which will, we believe, help to resolve the problems that have arisen. We trust that they will be speedily implemented.

List of Conclusions and Recommendations

185. Our conclusions and recommendations are as follows:

Current standards of behaviour in the police

1.  Although we reiterate that only a small minority of police officers is involved, we conclude that there are current grounds for concern about the behaviour of some police officers. This small minority is damaging to the overwhelming majority who are honest. The importance of dealing with the problem, if the confidence of the public in the police is to be maintained, must be recognised (paragraph 15).

The system for dealing with poor performance

2.  We welcome the proposed introduction to the disciplinary system of a procedure to deal with inadequate performance by police officers and urge that this is done without further delay (paragraph 21).

Does the present system enable misconduct to be identified and dealt with ?

3.  We find the present lack of clarity in [the statistics of complaint outcome] to be unsatisfactory, and we recommend that in future the totals for 'informal resolution' should be broken down in such a way as to indicate more precisely the outcome in each case (paragraph 28).

4.  There is a great deal of justified dissatisfaction with elements of the disciplinary and complaints systems. Improvements to the procedures are necessary if the system is to succeed in dealing with, and if necessary removing, officers who are corrupt or guilty of misconduct and if the public is to have full confidence both in the system and in the police as a whole (paragraph 41).

The early stages of a complaint or discipline investigation

5.  It should be mandatory for all representations which could constitute a complaint to be registered by the police and that, if the police and the complainant disagree on the point, the complainant must be advised that he or she can appeal to an independent body for a decision as to whether or not it is to be regarded as a complaint (paragraph 49).

6.  We agree [that it should be possible for a complaint to be registered directly with the PCA] and therefore recommend that, though it should remain the case that most complaints are made to the relevant police force, provision should be made for a complaint to be submitted directly to the PCA where the Authority is satisfied that the complainant has good reason for not wishing to lodge the complaint with the police (paragraph 50).

7.  However, we do not think that a convincing case has been made out for control over what should be resolved informally to move from the complainant to other parts of the system, whether the PCA or the police; such a change would run counter to attempts to increase public confidence in the independence of the complaints procedure. We support proposals to change the name of the informal procedure in such a way as to indicate more accurately that it is a serious procedure, albeit less formal than the full investigation procedure. We see merit in the PCA's proposal that there should be a mandatory procedure, following resolution of a complaint under the re-named 'informal' procedure, for making absolutely clear to complainants what they have agreed to and requiring them to confirm their agreement (paragraph 57).

8.  We accordingly recommend that police forces make greater efforts than hitherto to resolve complaints by judicious use of apologies and ex gratia payments (paragraph 58).

9.  We are sympathetic to this proposal [for the onus on re-starting a complaint investigation after other proceedings have finished to be switched to the complainant], so long as it is implemented in a way which would make it quite clear to the complainant that they were free to continue with a complaint (paragraph 59).

10.  We are of the view that any independent review body should be given the power to call in for possible supervision investigations which arise from any matter, whether or not it has been the subject of a complaint. (Paragraph 62).

The investigation of a complaint

11.  There was almost no argument in the evidence we received against the conclusion that independent investigation would be desirable in principle, not least because of the boost this would give to public confidence in the system. We are of the same view (paragraph 73).

12.  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. (Paragraph 81).

13.  We 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 (paragraph 83).

14.  We recommend that investigation by an outside force should become a more regular occurrence than it is at present (paragraph 84).

Independence and the Police Complaints Authority

15.  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 (paragraph 87).

Action following an investigation

16.  There is a danger that the CPS can appear to make judgements of cases involving the police which are not properly balanced. We trust the Butler review will propose steps to address this. One possible course of action might be to require any decision not to prosecute, in serious cases, to be the specific responsibility of the DPP, with a duty to state in writing the reasons for the decision (paragraph 93).

17.  We suggest that the idea of making the Chairman of the PCA specifically responsible for any decision not to bring disciplinary charges in serious cases might also be examined, again with a duty to state in writing the reasons for the decision (paragraph 94).

18.  We do not rule out the possibility that transferring financial responsibility for directed cases to the independent complaints review body could be a further contribution to bolstering its perceived independence, but we see difficulties also and we do not see any need to recommend that such a step be taken in present circumstances. Nevertheless, arrangements should be made to allow the PCA to participate in the preparation of cases where it has directed that a disciplinary charge be brought (paragraph 97).

19.  We consider that adjudication of a discipline hearing arising from a complaint is an area where independence is important, particularly from the point of view of encouraging public confidence. We recommend that the revised complaints procedures should provide for the adjudication panel to include at least one independent member (paragraph 99).

Legal protections for accused officers: general observations

20.  [The Minister's] position is broadly the right one. Certainly police officers operate in special circumstances and in consequence should not simply be treated the same as ordinary employees. But their disciplinary procedures should be as close as possible to the procedures in other walks of life; high standards are expected of them and their special position does not of itself entitle them to protections which cannot be justified in other terms. We conclude that the balance between these two approaches is currently drawn too far towards excessive protection for officers (paragraph 105).

The right to silence

21.  We recommend that the modified caution and right to silence applicable to criminal proceedings be applied also to police disciplinary proceedings (paragraph 109).

Right to legal representation

22.  We have concluded that, at first instance hearings, officers should retain the right to legal representation only when continuation of their job as an officer-i.e. dismissal or being required to resign-is at stake (paragraph 113).

The standard of proof

23.  There is general consensus that the civil-rather than criminal-standard of proof should apply in determining guilt in cases where only lesser punishments are applicable. We have concluded, on balance, that the civil standard of proof should also apply where the more serious penalties (dismissal, requirement to resign, or reduction in rank) are at stake (paragraph 125).

Double jeopardy

24.  We are in no doubt that the proposal to abolish the 'double jeopardy' rule should stand. If the standard of proof is lowered at the same time then abolition may well have a significant effect. If the standard of proof is not lowered however, then in serious cases the proposed Guidance notes should, in our opinion, be redrafted to make clearer that any decision not to bring a charge on the grounds of double jeopardy should be entirely within the discretion of the Chief Officer (paragraph 129).

A new offence of 'false / malicious complaint

25.  We agree with fears that genuine complainants could be deterred if there were a new criminal offence of making a false complaint; we do not therefore recommend the introduction of such an offence (paragraph 133).

Delays in the process

26.  We welcome the commitment on behalf of the Government to addressing as a priority the delays in the system (paragraph 135).

Administrative delays

27.  We agree that all disciplinary interviews should be tape recorded (paragraph 140).

28.  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. (Paragraph 141).

29.  Chief officers-who must accept the prime responsibility-must take further action to prevent [excessive delays in arranging disciplinary hearings] and to come within the six month target (paragraph 142).

30.  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 (paragraph 143).

Delays due to sickness

31.  If [the forthcoming report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary on medical retirements] identifies weaknesses in the existing powers, then we are in no doubt that action should be taken to remedy them as soon as possible (paragraph 152).

32.  We conclude that the powers available to chief officers to verify whether an officer is genuinely as sick as claimed are not inadequate, though they may require a higher degree of commitment to enforce than is shown at the moment; we urge chief officers to show that commitment (paragraph 155).

33.  We conclude that the regulations should make clear that a chief officer be allowed to complete disciplinary hearings in the absence of an accused officer in any case considered appropriate (paragraph 157).

34.  We agree [that judicious use be made of the power to reduce the pay of officers who are sick for six or more months]. But we think there is scope for going further, in that we consider that the provisions allowing reduction in pay should be applicable where officers who are sick are currently suspended (paragraph 159).

Completion of other proceedings and 'fast tracking'

35.  We agree that chief officers should be able to go ahead with disciplinary proceedings in advance of criminal proceedings where the CPS indicates that it is satisfied that those proceedings will not be prejudiced (paragraph 166).

36.  We also agree in principle that there is a need for an expedited disciplinary process which could involve dismissal where there is clear evidence of serious misconduct, or alternatively for suspension on reduced pay where the circumstances are slightly less serious (paragraph 167).

37.  We accordingly recommend that the fast track procedure should only be used where a chief constable is satisfied-to a higher standard of proof than simply the balance of probabilities-that the alleged incidents have occurred, and further that use of a fast track procedure would not prejudice a subsequent criminal trial (paragraph 167).


38.  We recommend that investigating officers' reports should be subject to disclosure on the same basis as other documents relating to the complaint (paragraph 172).

39.  We conclude that investigation files relating to death in custody cases should generally be made available to the deceased's family before inquests (paragraph 174).

40.  We agree that it would not be appropriate for complainants to have legal representation at a disciplinary hearing, although this is a matter that may have to be kept under review. As regards public hearings, we consider that these would be generally desirable unless in the view of the presiding officer there are exceptional reasons for requiring them to be held in private; and we accordingly recommend that such a procedure be introduced (paragraph 177).

41.  We think that complainants should be fully informed about the outcome of any disciplinary hearing arising from their complaint (paragraph 179).

42.  We agree that the terms of s. 98 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 should be relaxed so as to give the PCA greater freedom to explain its work to complainants and the public (paragraph 180).

The PCA's budget

43.  The Committee recognises the constraints faced in all areas of public expenditure, but draws the Government's particular attention to the level of the cuts faced by the Police Complaints Authority. There is a danger that if reduced funding leads to significantly lower effectiveness then the public's confidence in the complaints process could be further reduced (paragraph 183).

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Prepared 15 January 1998