Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160
THURSDAY 14 FEBRUARY 2002
160. Can you tell us where the 3 per cent comes
(Mr Elliott) We have done some figure on the basis
of what we see as the current system of complaints and the current
complaints that would fit into that category.
(Mrs Berry) The 3 per cent comes from discussions.
A Programme Board for the Independent Commission has been working
through some of the details and some of our colleagues are on
that Board. Last year there were 32,000 complaints against police
and it is anticipated that the Commission would investigate, as
opposed to manage and supervise, 1,000 complaints, so I suppose
the simple statistic is if it is 1,000 from last year's 32,000
it is about 3 per cent that they would be investigating. On top
of that you would have the responsibility they have for the management
and supervision, and that would not be as hands-on, and those
complaints would still be investigated by professional standards
units in forces or complaints and discipline units depending what
force title was given to them.
161. How could the Bill be amended to take into
account the broader number of complaints under the Commission?
(Mrs Berry) The difficulty that we see is that the
investigation of complaints is only going to be the top 3 per
cent, the rest of them will be managed or supervised by forces.
What we would like to see is over a short period of timeand
as short as possible, we would need to work out the time scalethe
IPCC to be taking on and manage and supervise complaints, but
that would need to be done in an incremental way.
(Mr Elliott) It would need to be done in an incremental
way because there would be a cost, the more complaints they investigate
the higher the cost. We think one of the considerations which
has been given to the IPCC is cost consideration.
162. Thank you. Do you think it is practical
to have a three month time limit on complaints?
(Mr Elliott) What we have now is not that practical,
we have complaints that drag on for months and years to nobody's
satisfaction, not to the polices' satisfaction, not to the police
officer's satisfaction or the complainant's satisfaction. We have
recently had series of complaints where we have run abuse of process
arguments because things are taking far too long. I do not think
an abuse of process argument is a particularly good solution to
a complaint. We think there are benefits on both sides to having
complaints investigated in a more timely way than they are now,
three months seems perfectly reasonable us to. It may be that
it is not entirely practical in every case, but it seems reasonable
163. What about action against false complaints?
(Mr Elliott) We have always felt that there are some
people who, for a variety of reasonsnot least of which
is to use the fact to weigh against a pending court casewho
have abused the complaints system, which is costly to the taxpayer,
which knocks the morale of police officers and which is an abuse
of the system. We have felt this for some considerable time and
there should be some control for that. Our solution to that control
is to make it an offence to make a malicious complaint, we think
that is the simplest way forward, that might not be attractive
to everybody but we see that as an abuse of the system which costs
the taxpayer money and it is done in some cases for personal gain
or for a personal reason. If a criminal makes a complaint it muddies
164. Last week Sir John Stevens was very critical
of police disciplinary hearings, he said they were inflexible
and very legalistic. Do you want to give us some of the views
of the Federation?
(Mr Elliott) We do not agree with Sir John.
165. Surprise, surprise!
(Mr Elliott) We think they work well, they provide
adequate protection for officers and adequate powers to chief
officers to do everything up to dismissal and a reduction in rank
of officers. Where we are coming from is that there are a significant
number of malicious complaints in the system, police officers
are at risk frequently out patrolling on their own and they need
some degree of protection. I think that is basically the position
we are coming from, it has worked well in the past and it works
166. Are there some practical ways of changing
the system to avoid the court of law scenario with all of the
delays and legalistic arguments.
(Mr Elliott) I think that would be difficult for police
officers because we are very legalistic and we do detail quite
a lot. Whatever you change, people would be in that frame of mind,
it is about the job.
167. You would not want to see any amendments
(Mr Elliott) I think the new system of complaints
has not been in for that long, it has only been in force three
years. I do not think the system has been given long enough to
demonstrate whether it is going to work or not. There is a system
now for unsatisfactory performance and there is a system for fast-tracking
cases where particular offences are particularly serious and people
can be dismissed quickly. Those are all aspects of discipline
and improving the performance of officers which I think have yet
to be tested so it can be said they are working or they are not
working. It is important to police officers when they go out on
patrol that they know that they are going to be protected, so
whilst it is right that there should be a transparent and open
discipline system it is also right they should feel they are protected
by that system as well. The proposal I think within the IPCC arrangements,
which we welcome, is the widening of the people who can actually
make a complaint, so it is not just left to the person who is
the recipient of the poor treatment, as has been alleged, but
it also people who are speaking on their behalf or people who
have witnessed that as well.
168. Just coming back to this complaints system,
when we say 3 per cent, that is liable to be 3 per cent of the
most serious complaints, like deaths in custody, so to that extent
it is a much greater share of the work load that 3 per cent implies,
is it not?
(Mr Elliott) There is no doubt about that, that is
absolutely right. Again, just off deaths in custody, there will
be fairly serious complaints and there are things that have to
be managed by the authority now which we think they should fall
into the gambit of the complaints authority for investigation.
169. Many of the trivial complaints, you would
agree, could be dealt with at a local level, do you not?
(Mr Elliott) Yes.
170. One of the anomalies of the past, one of
the difficulties in the past has been it requires a chief officer
or the police locally to be willing to record a complaint before
it can be considered. Secondly, it requires the chief officer
to be willing to refer it to the Police Complaints Authority before
they could address it. Both of those are now removed on this,
are they not?
(Mrs Berry) That would not become an issue with this
171. You are happy with that?
(Mrs Berry) Yes.
172. Are you familiar with new complaints procedure
in Northern Ireland?
(Mrs Berry) We are aware of it. Our colleagues on
our Discipline Sub Committee have visited the Ombudsman's Office
in Northern Ireland and I think in our evidence we have commended
that you should take a look at what they are doing in Northern
Ireland. However, it is not without its problems.
173. I think Mr Ronnie Flanagan would attest
(Mrs Berry) That aside, one of the concerns we have
with what is proposed with IPCC is that it could actually introduce
greater bureaucracy and it could, unless it is properly resourced,
result in delays. Further delays are not going to do any good
to either the complainant or the person being complained of. That
is one of the concerns that our colleagues in Northern Ireland
are facing, that the delays in the investigation of complaints
has gone up alarmingly. Whilst I think we like the model, we have
to resource any of these models in order for them to be able to
174. Northern Ireland, although it has got its
own peculiar problems, is a relatively small catchment area and
therefore it is one thing to say "This body should deal with
all the complaints in Northern Ireland" and it would be a
wholly different matter to say that it should deal with all the
32,000, you are not quite saying that anyway, are you?
(Mrs Berry) No.
(Mr Elliott) No, we are not.
175. It should deal with most of those.
(Mr Elliott) What we have said is it should deal with
the more serious cases and we classify them as both those that
currently they tend to deal with and those which would be managed
by them. That is the top quartile, perhaps a bit more than the
top quartile of complaints.
(Mrs Berry) I think what we have put in our evidence
to you is that the informal resolutions clearly are a local matter
and we would expect the local resolution to be a local matter
but the managed and supervised investigations we believe should
be investigated and dealt with by the IPCC.
176. Do you know what proportion those are of
(Mrs Berry) We do not have those calculations at this
moment in time, no.
177. On the changes to the police disciplinary
procedures that you were referring to a moment ago, Mrs Berry.
Are they in use, the changes, or is life carrying on much as before?
(Mrs Berry) I think they are being used. They are
being used in some forces better than others. If you just take
unsatisfactory performance as an example. The intention of that
particular provision is to improve performance, it is to identify
where people are falling short and to develop them in order that
their performance is raised. I think it is too soon to argue whether
that is being successful or not and that really depends on local
ability to develop officers' performance. The wrong way of looking
at that particular performance is by looking at how many people
have been dismissed from the service as a result of it because
that particular statistic would not take account of the people
whose development has been improved by drawing attention to their
178. I suppose the right way to look at it would
be to see how long dealing with these disciplinary procedures
takes. The process has been criticised in the past as being far
too lengthy and open to all kinds of prevarication.
(Mrs Berry) Well, unsatisfactory performance and performance
in general of police officers is always going to be an ongoing
situation. Whenever I have supervised officers, you start with
identifying something in their work that they might not being
too terribly well and you coach them through that. Now if that
particular coaching does not work you have to look at other methods,
it might be training, it might be transfer, it might be a whole
host of different things.
179. I do not think anybody is disputing that,
Mrs Berry. I am talking about proceedings often for serious alleged
(Mrs Berry) That would not fall within the unsatisfactory.