Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
24 NOVEMBER 2008
Q40 Geraldine Smith: Can the police
reject one of your recommendations?
Ms Furniss: Yes they can.
Q41 Geraldine Smith: Can they say,
"We think you have got this wrong?"
Ms Furniss: They can and we do
not have the power to enforce our recommendations. We would be
very wary about that because we are not operational policing people
and it has got to be for the Chief Constable, the police authority
and the Home Office to determine how priorities should be made
for policing, not for us as a complaints body. We would be reluctant
to have powers to enforce, but we certainly think we should use
our influence to change policy, procedures, or indeed very specific
details like the plughole example that I gave you.
Q42 Geraldine Smith: You said earlier
you just have 400 staff to deal with the whole police complaints
system and you make a decision as to which complaints the police
will deal with and which complaints you will take on.
Ms Furniss: Yes.
Q43 Geraldine Smith: If there are
resourcing problems there must be a temptation to leave the police
to investigate some of what you consider are lesser complaints
because you just do not have the resources to do it.
Ms Furniss: One of our primary
responsibilities is to determine the mode of investigation. That
is one of the most important decisions we make. I would be foolish
to say to you that resources do not come into it. Of course they
do; they have to. We have to choose and prioritise and you would
expect us to do that. We have to determine the priority of any
individual case in a whole matrix of things that make up our decision.
The seriousness of the incident and, if it is a death, it will
always take priority; if it is a very serious injury, it is very
likely to be a priority; if it is serious corruption, dishonesty,
perverting the course of justice, those sorts of very serious
complaints against police officers where the public would expect
us to give those priority.
Q44 Geraldine Smith: Would you accept
that resources play a part in the decision as to who should do
Ms Furniss: Of course. They have
Q45 Geraldine Smith: There is a large
number of appeals you receive from the process of local resolution.
Does that not tell you something, that some of these cases that
have been dealt with locally you should perhaps have dealt with
to begin with?
Ms Furniss: I do not think they
do tell us that. Just to be clear, local resolution is one method
of a matter being resolved. It is not an investigation. There
are then also local investigations, where the police conduct an
investigation. Both categories can come to us on appeal. What
it tells us is that sometimes the police do not handle the case
well. Really, the number of appeals would not tell us that but
the number of upheld appeals will give us a much better indication
of that. There are some people who will appeal even if their case
has been dealt with thoroughly because they do not like the outcome,
but there are people who do appeal quite legitimately and properly
and we uphold their appeal. There are some indications that appeals
upheld are beginning to go down, particularly in relation to complaints
about the police not recording a complaint and local resolution
where we thinkand it is a bit too early for me to be confident
about thisthe signs are the police are dealing with the
cases better, which is resulting in us upholding fewer appeals.
I think the real test is how many appeals we uphold: do we find
the police have not dealt with them properly in the first place?
Q46 Geraldine Smith: It has been
asked earlier why you do not seek the views of the people making
the complaints, and it does seem very strange, I am sure, to all
Members of this Committee, that they are the group you leave out
along with the police and you just have surveys of the general
public. I think it would be hard for most members of the public
to know any detail of what you do to answer questions. How are
you going to change that? You have said you will change it.
Ms Furniss: The first thing to
say, just to be clear, is that our responsibility is not to satisfy
the complainant nor to protect the police officer. It is to look
over both their heads and say the point of us is for the public's
confidence; that is really why we are here. Having said that,
I think it is a weaknessI have said so to the auditorsthat
we have not previously asked complainants or police officers for
their views of the process, because they do have valuable feedback
for us to learn about the process.
Q47 Geraldine Smith: When and how
are you going to do that?
Ms Furniss: We have started already.
We started in November with appellants, those who made an appeal
to us. We began that process because we wanted to try out the
form. We did that in our North region and by January we will be
routinely asking all those who make an appeal for their feedback
on it. From January we are also piloting questionnaires for those
who are involved in a complaint where we are doing an independent
investigation and the police officers who have been investigated.
From April therefore we will be doing surveys of all three groups
routinely and reporting on those publicly, as well as using them
internally to improve our processes. One thing to add is that
it is important to recognise that the person who is complaining
or the person who is being complained about does not really have
much to say about the outcome unless they are happy with it. Do
you understand my point? Their comments on the process are really
a help to us. Did we keep them well informed? Did we treat them
courteously? Did we explain what was going on to them? Those are
really legitimate sets of feedback. Are you happy with the outcome?
Only one of them is likely to be, frankly. It is very likely that
at least one of the parties will be dissatisfied and will complain
about the process because they do not like the outcome. So it
will always be awkward for us, I think, in how we make use of
the feedback from appellants, complainants and police officers.
As the NAO found, it is not easy to do in a way that makes a huge
amount of value but we are very committed to doing this for the
Q48 Geraldine Smith: How are you
held accountable? How are the Commissioners held accountable?
Ms Furniss: The Commissioners
hold me and us, the executive, to account. That is the first important
point. They hold us to account on individual cases and they hold
me to account for the way the organisation is run. They are public
appointments. They are not members of staff. How they are held
accountable? There is not a direct body, other than this one,
frankly. The National Audit Office and yourselves hold us to account.
That is why I am here this afternoon. There is not an inspectorate
for the organisation. Parliament presumably determined that when
it created the IPCC. It did not establish a body to which we were
accountable other than the National Audit Office and the PAC.
If that were something that was thought to be of value, I do not
think the Commission would have any objection to that. The question
is, where do you stop? If there is an oversight body for the oversight
body, how do you create that?
Q49 Geraldine Smith: There is no
outside scrutiny for your work to make sure the cases are being
handled properly, to make sure the procedures are being followed.
No-one really checks up on that.
Ms Furniss: There is not an external
inspectorate for the IPCC, no. We are scrutinised daily by lawyers
for those making complaints. We are scrutinised very closely by
the people who we are investigating and by those who have made
the complaint. We have judicial reviews, and that is the main
process that people can use. They can challenge us in court, and
they do. So far our investigations have withstood that kind of
complaint and that kind of scrutiny very well.
Q50 Mr Williams: What is the role
of the IPCC's Advisory Board?
Ms Furniss: It is an informal
Board. It was established by the Commission in its early days
in order to have, I guess, a sort of "critical friend"
kind of board, people who had an interest in the complaints system
and who were able to provide feedback to the organisation about
how it was organising itself and running.
Q51 Mr Williams: You say having a
critical friend on board but it seems you have more friends than
you have critics. Of the 15 members, only two are not government,
police or staff interest. That is not exactly opening yourselves
up to external scrutiny, is it?
Ms Furniss: There was another
group of members, who were lawyers, who chose to resign from the
Board because they were not happy with the IPCC.
Q52 Mr Williams: That did not worry
Ms Furniss: Of course it worried
Q53 Mr Williams: So what did you
do about it?
Ms Furniss: What we have done
about it is keep in touch with those lawyers. The Chair and I
met with them last week.
Q54 Mr Williams: How long ago did
Ms Furniss: They resigned about
a year ago.
Q55 Mr Williams: They resigned a
year ago, you have kept in touch with them but you have made no
attempt to replace them. It looks as if you are quite happy with
an insider board.
Ms Furniss: No, Mr Williams, that
would not be right. What we have done is consult very widely other
groups of people as well as work with our Advisory Board. The
Advisory Board is intended to be an advice board. It is not a
Q56 Mr Williams: But you want objective
advice, do you not, if it is to be any good? You saidand
I know it was not meant in the way I interpreted ita friend
on board, but that is actually what it is. Its structure makes
it a friend on board.
Ms Furniss: Mr Williams, the police
are not friends of the IPCC.
Q57 Mr Williams: The government,
the police and the staff interests.
Ms Furniss: They are the representatives
on the Advisory Board but they are not there as friends. They
are there as people who are critical of the IPCC. You will see
on a daily basis police officers, ACPO, the Federation, others,
criticising the IPCC when they think it is right to do so. Could
I just go back to the police action lawyers...
Q58 Mr Williams: They do not seem
Ms Furniss: In what way?
Q59 Mr Williams: In producing end
products of their criticism. You say they are there to give friendly
criticism. What is the result of that friendly criticism?
Ms Furniss: The IPCC stock-take
of the complaints system has relied very much on the feedback
from Advisory Board members and others who have fed back to us
their view of how the complaints system is working. The question
we wanted to ask was, now that the organisation has been up and
running for four or five years, is it meeting the aspirations
that people had for it at the time it was created? That was both
police interest groups and complainant interest groups.