Legislative Scrutiny: Coroners and Justice Bill - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by the Independent Police Complaints Commission


  The primary statutory function of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is to secure and maintain public confidence in the handling of public complaints against the police and police misconduct matters. The IPCC also has a responsibility for investigating incidents involving death or serious injury during or following contact with the police. Despite the fact that inquests are independent of such investigations, the public understandably look at the process as a whole with the result that any failings in the inquest process impact on confidence in both the police complaints system and wider police service as a whole.

  The IPCC has concerns regarding Clauses 11-13 of the Coroners and Justice Bill (the Bill) which make provision for non-jury inquests in certain cases. The IPCC recognises the difficulties there are regarding cases involving the use of intercept material but does not believe there is any requirement for non-jury inquests for deaths following police contact in any other circumstances.

  In addition, the IPCC has concerns about the lack of provision for consultation as part of the certification process and would welcome a commitment from the Secretary of State to formally consult the IPCC before certifying any inquest into a death the IPCC had investigated.


  1. The Independent Police Complaints Commission, which operates in England and Wales only, became operational in April 2004, succeeding the Police Complaints Authority. The IPCC was created by the Police Reform Act 2002 as a Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB) to deal with complaints and allegations of misconduct against police in England and Wales.

  2. More recently the IPCC's remit has been extended to include the investigation of serious allegations against officers of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), HM Revenue and Customs and the UK Border Agency.

  3. The IPCC is overseen by a Board of Commissioners appointed by the Home Secretary. By law, Commissioners must never have worked for the police service in any capacity. They are the public, independent face of the IPCC.

  4. The IPCC's powers include:

    —  Investigative powers: the IPCC may independently investigate cases, oversee police investigations of cases, or leave cases to be locally investigated by the police without oversight;

    —  An appeal function whereby complaints who are unhappy with how the police dealt with their complaint may appeal to the IPCC; and

    —  The power to direct a force to convene a disciplinary tribunal and, in exceptional cases, may direct that the tribunal be held in public.

  5. The IPCC has a statutory responsibility to increase public confidence in the police complaints system. To assist in meeting this responsibility the IPCC has a guardianship function which consists of four main elements:

    —  A duty to increase public confidence in the system as a whole;

    —  Promoting accessibility of the complaints system;

    —  Setting, monitoring, inspecting and reviewing standards for the operation of the whole system; and

    —  Promoting a learning culture so that lessons may be learnt from the system.


  6. The IPCC's responsibility for investigation of deaths following police contact arises from the state's obligations under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights to ensure that where someone has died during or following contact with the police, including fatal use of force cases, an effective and independent investigation takes place.

  7. European and domestic case law requires that when Article 2 is engaged that five procedural obligations are met. They are:

    —  The investigation must be independent. In other words there should be no hierarchical or institutional link between the investigator and the person who is the subject of the investigation;

    —  The investigation must be effective in that it must be capable of identifying the culpability of anyone involved in causing the death and holding them to account if necessary;

    —  The investigation must be reasonably prompt;

    —  There must be a sufficient element of public scrutiny; and

    —  The next of kin must be involved to an appropriate extent.

  It is in relation to the last two headings that the IPCC has particular concerns if non-jury inquests are held and relevant information is not disclosed to the next of kin or the public. In the view of the IPCC such an event would not meet those two procedural obligations.

  8. Investigations into the fatal use of force attract significant public interest and their outcome has a major impact on public confidence not just in the complaints system as a whole but also in the way in which the police discharge some of their most critical responsibilities.

  9. Under the Bill, there will normally be an obligation on coroners to hold an inquest with a jury in such cases. Despite the fact that investigations into deaths during or following police contact and inquests are independent of each other, the public understandably look at the process as a whole with the result that any failings in or difficulties with the inquest process also impact on confidence in the IPCC and police complaints regime generally.


Provisions for non-jury inquests

  10. Clauses 11 to 13 of the Bill propose that in certain cases an inquest will proceed in the absence of a jury. Those cases include, but are not limited to, those where intercept material informed the police operation that resulted in the fatality. At the present time, the nature and the existence of that intelligence cannot be disclosed to either a coroner or a jury because of section 17 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

  11. The IPCC currently has one case where an inquest has not proved possible to date. This has added to the emotional distress for those families who are entitled to know how and why their family member died. The IPCC understand that these clauses are partly intended to rectify that issue by providing that the information can be made available to suitably qualified coroners sitting without a jury and to counsel to the inquest.

  12. The IPCC recognises the very real difficulty the government has. The relevant material might have been obtained by a covert human intelligence source or "CHIS" and even to reveal the existence of such a person might put their lives in danger. Surveillance might have been in progress throughout the police operation that led to the fatality and in these circumstances it might not be possible for police officers to discuss their actions without revealing sensitive surveillance techniques. On the other hand, there might be cases where the intelligence that led to a police operation was sensitive but no such concerns would relate to the police operation once it was in progress. None of the arguments in this paper should be taken to imply any specific reference to any particular IPCC case.

IPCC's concerns

  13. The IPCC's concerns relate solely to inquests arising from a death following police contact. It is recognised that these clauses might apply to inquests held in other circumstances of which the IPCC has no direct experience.

  14. The IPCC is particularly concerned about the wide scope of these clauses should they be used as a basis to hold an inquest in the absence of a jury in any case where a death has followed, whether directly or indirectly, contact with the police and that contact has either caused or contributed to the death.

  15. The IPCC has independently investigated and published a report on every death following the police fatal use of force since 1 April 2004. These cases have included those where the death occurred during a police response to organised crime and Stockwell, which involved the police response to terrorism. Other than the one case where the use of intercept material has been an issue, all of the IPCC's investigations have been followed by public inquest before a coroner sitting with a jury and the publication of our report. Where necessary, sensitive material has been redacted and appropriate witnesses granted anonymity. The IPCC does not therefore believe there is any evidence to support the view that there is any requirement for a non-jury inquest for deaths following police contact other than where intercept material is an issue.

  16. There is no provision in the Bill for the IPCC to be consulted as part of the certification process. This is despite the fact that prior to the inquest, the IPCC will be the only body in possession of all the evidence relating to the death and so will have a relevant view on the centrality of any sensitive material to the inquest's function. The danger of relying solely on consultation with the relevant force is that there is a risk that the fears of information being disclosed may be overstated. The IPCC would therefore welcome a commitment from the Secretary of State to formally consult the IPCC before certifying any inquest into a death the IPCC had investigated.

March 2009

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