Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160 - 179)



  160. Can you tell us where the 3 per cent comes from?
  (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 time—and as short as possible, we would need to work out the time scale—the 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 to us.

  163. What about action against false complaints?
  (Mr Elliott) We have always felt that there are some people who, for a variety of reasons—not least of which is to use the fact to weigh against a pending court case—who 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 the water.

  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 well now.

  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 at all?
  (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 proposed system.

  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 to that.
  (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 deliver.

  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 the whole?
  (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 poor performance.

  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 disciplinary offences.
  (Mrs Berry) That would not fall within the unsatisfactory.

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