Independent Police Complaints Commission - Public Accounts Committee Contents


Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 40-59)

INDEPENDENT POLICE COMPLAINTS COMMISSION

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 the investigation?

  Ms Furniss: Of course. They have to.

  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 think—and it is a bit too early for me to be confident about this—the 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 weakness—I have said so to the auditors—that 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 future.

  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 you?

  Ms Furniss: Of course it worried us, yes.

  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 they resign?

  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 statutory body.

  Q56  Mr Williams: But you want objective advice, do you not, if it is to be any good? You said—and I know it was not meant in the way I interpreted it—a 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 very effective.

  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.



 
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