Independent Police Complaints Commission - Public Accounts Committee Contents

1  Managing resources effectively

1.  The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) was established under the Police Reform Act 2002 and became operational from April 2004. It is responsible for the performance of the whole police complaints system in England and Wales. Its remit is:

  • to investigate complaints and conduct matters involving police officers;
  • to recommend appropriate action by the police force concerned, and
  • where appropriate, to forward information to the Crown Prosecution Service for a decision on possible prosecution.[2]

2.  When the IPCC receives a complaint it can decide to refer the case back to the relevant police force to investigate locally or it may choose one of three methods of investigation outlined in Figure 1. The IPCC also processes appeals made by complainants about the non-recording, local resolution or local investigation of their case by the police.Figure 1: Summary of the IPCC's main activities
Complaints: When the IPCC receives a complaint or referral, it has four options under the Police Reform Act 2002. If the IPCC believes that the case does not require IPCC involvement, it may refer the case back to the police force to investigate locally. Alternatively, the IPCC may choose one of the following three methods of investigation:
  • Independent investigation: For the most serious complaints, such as those involving a death after contact with the police, an independent investigation is undertaken by IPCC investigators.
  • Managed investigation: These investigations are undertaken by the local police force against whom the complaint has been made, under the direction and control of an IPCC investigator. The IPCC is responsible for setting out the avenues of enquiry to be followed, monitoring progress, issuing further instructions if necessary and signing-off the completed investigation report when satisfied.
  • Supervised investigation: The investigation is performed by the local police force and is under its direction and control. The IPCC's role is limited to approving the investigation's terms of reference and confirming that these have been met at the conclusion of the investigation.

Appeals: The IPCC also processes appeals made by complainants. Appeals may be against a police force's non-recording of a complaint, against a complaint being dealt with by local resolution by the police, or against the outcome of the local investigation of a complaint by the police.

Source: C&AG's Report, Box 3

3.  Since the IPCC was established the number of complaints against the police has increased from 15,885 in 2003-04 to 28,963 in 2007-08. The IPCC attributed this 83% increase in complaints mainly to improved public access and confidence in the police complaints system. People now believe that if they complain there is a system in place to address their complaint and the complaint will be taken seriously and investigated properly.[3] The IPCC's surveys of the general public in 2004 and 2007 suggested that two thirds of respondents were 'fairly' or 'very' confident that complaints against the police would be handled impartially.[4]

4.  The IPCC was unable to say, however, whether or not the increase in complaints against the police was also due to rising dissatisfaction with the police.[5] The IPCC noted that one possible measure of assessing police performance is the number of appeals that the IPCC upholds. There is some evidence that the police are dealing with cases better, which is resulting in the IPCC upholding fewer appeals.[6]

5.  We asked how the IPCC monitors the handling of complaints that do not reach the IPCC. The IPCC told us in written evidence that it has set standards on how police forces should handle complaints and has regular liaison with Police Standards Departments on their performance. From July 2009, the IPCC intends to launch a new performance framework that will provide the IPCC with a picture of how individual police forces are performing in handling complaints locally.[7]

6.  The IPCC's workload has increased significantly since it began work in 2004-05.
Figure 2 shows that the number of independent investigations opened by the IPCC increased from 31 in 2004-05 to 100 in 2007-08. There has also been a four-fold increase in the number of appeals received, from 1,033 in 2004-05 to 4,141 in 2007-08. This increase in workload has placed growing demands on the IPCC's staff to a point where the IPCC considers that it is now operating above its full capacity.[8] The rise in the number of complaints against the police is only part of the explanation for the rising workload. The police now refer more cases to the IPCC than in earlier years and the IPCC now better understands its obligations under Articles 2 and 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998 to investigate all incidents where a death or near death has occurred proximate to contact with the police.[9]Figure 2: The increasing workload of the Independent Police Complaints Commission
Independent investigations started
Managed investigations started
Appeals received

Source: National Audit Office analysis of IPCC performance data

7.  To deal with its increasing workload within the resources available, the IPCC has redeployed suitably qualified staff to undertake investigations from other activities such as quality reviews. IPCC's staff are also working more hours to get work completed and a senior investigator has returned from retirement.[10]

8.  The level of performance in handling cases has varied across the IPCC's four regions. For example, in 2007-08 only one of the IPCC's four regions met its target to process 80% of appeals within 25 working days. The worst problem was in the London and South East Region where, in 2007-08, only 27% of investigation appeals were dealt with in line with the target.[11] During the early years of its operations, the IPCC had got its resourcing model wrong for London and the South East which partly explained the poorer performance of this region.[12] Demand was typically higher in London and the South East than for the other three regions, with more appeals being received and more independent and managed investigations started. Staff recruitment and retention difficulties exacerbated the problems and contributed to the backlog of appeals.[13]

9.  The IPCC has taken steps to address the regional variations in appeals performance by:

  • allocating appeals on a national rather than a regional basis, so that the same service will be provided to all those making an appeal,[14] and
  • recruiting staff to help to process the backlog of appeals.[15]

The IPCC assured us that by the end of the 2008-09 financial year the appeals backlog would have been cleared and all appeals would be dealt with within the set timescale.[16]

10.  The IPCC decides the approach that should be adopted for each complaint that it receives (Figure 1). This decision known as determining the Mode of Investigation, is based on an assessment of the apparent seriousness of the complaint, which determines whether it needs to be investigated by the IPCC or whether it could be handled by the police.[17] The IPCC admitted that there are no strict criteria for making such decisions and accepted that the availability of resources plays a part. The IPCC rejected the suggestion, however, that decisions on the type of investigation were unduly influenced by resource pressures.[18]

11.  In addition to investigators and casework managers, the IPCC has 12 Commissioners. They act as the representatives of the public and guardians of the IPCC's independence, and are the key decision makers in the IPCC's activities.[19] In May 2008, the IPCC took the decision that Commissioners will no longer approve the Mode of Investigation decision. This responsibility now rests with Regional Directors who are members of the IPCC's management team. This change in responsibilities was in response to the decision to reduce the number of Commissioners from 15 to 12 from July 2008. As a result, however, the oversight and accountability role of Commissioners has been reduced.[20]

2   C&AG's Report, Summary, para 1 Back

3   Q 1; C&AG's Report, para 3.2 Back

4   Q 33; C&AG's Report, para 3.16 Back

5   Qq 2-4 Back

6   Q 45 Back

7   Ev 9 Back

8   C&AG's Report, paras 1.15-1.16 Back

9   C&AG's Report, para 1.18 Back

10   Qq 5-7, 17, 21 Back

11   C&AG's Report, para 1.34; Appendix 2 Back

12   Q 28 Back

13   C&AG's Report, para 1.9 Back

14   Q 9 Back

15   Q 30 Back

16   Q 9 Back

17   Q 18; C&AG's Report, para 1.14 Back

18   Qq 19, 27, 43-44 Back

19   Q 10; C&AG's Report, para 1.4 Back

20   Q 27; C&AG's Report, paras 1.5-1.6 Back

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Prepared 31 March 2009