Select Committee on Home Affairs Second Report



29.  The provisions in the Bill for an Independent Police Complaints Commission to replace the Police Complaints Authority are the culmination of extensive consultation by the Home Office. The new system is designed to ensure that the most serious complaints against the police are no longer investigated by police officers. It is expected that the new body will have a budget three times greater than the current one. Arrangements are now in hand for the new system and the Police Complaints Authority has described to us how some of the pilot schemes are operating.[31]

30.  Considering the careful preparation that has gone into the new complaints system, we were not surprised to receive only a few suggestions for improvements to this part of the Bill. Liberty argued for a tighter definition of the type of cases which ought always to be examined by the new Independent Commission.[32] The Police Federation wanted a time-limit on investigations and an offence of malicious or fabricated complaint.[33] When the Committee examined police complaints and disciplinary procedures in 1997-8 this issue was considered. We concluded then that genuine complaints could be deterred if there was a new criminal offence of making a false complaint. The Committee accordingly did not recommend the introduction of such an offence.[34] We stand by that conclusion.

31.  We welcome the provisions of the Bill for a new complaints system—which is in line with our proposals in 1997-98—and are not persuaded that they need substantial amendment. They may have to be adjusted in future in the light of experience. We share the views of our witnesses that the new system must not only be independent but must inspire public confidence by being seen to be independent of the police and of the Home Office. This will require adequate resources, a reasonable degree of discretion, high calibre staff and good leadership.

32.  We believe that the planned budget of £14-18 million a year, the provisions of the Bill and the pilot schemes already being conducted by the Police Complaints Authority have the potential to achieve an effective and independent system dealing with complaints of a serious nature.

33.  One aspect of independence is the method of appointment to senior positions in the new Commission. The Bill provides for the chairman to be appointed by the Queen on the advice of ministers, for other members of the Commission to be appointed by the Home Secretary and for the chief executive's appointment to be subject to approval or veto by the Home Office. The chairmanship of such an independent investigative body is not an executive function working for the Government in the same way as the Director General of the Prison Service or the Chief Executive of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. There is a case for making this appointment, like that of the Comptroller and Auditor General, subject to some form of parliamentary endorsement. When asked about the independence of the IPCC, John Wadham of Liberty told the Committee:

    "I would prefer bodies like the Police Complaints Authority or the [new Independent Police Complaints] Commission to have some process whereby appropriate parliamentary committees would have some kind of say [in the appointment of chairman]...although theoretically the appointment by the Queen is a protection, in practice decisions are made by the Government of the day and I think there should be some process of accountability, some process of transparency".[35]

34.  The Minister told us:

    "The normal practice over a huge range of public bodies that are regarded as independent is for ministerial appointments".[36]

35.  We note that the Comptroller and Auditor General is appointed under section 1 of the National Audit Act 1983 by the Queen on an address presented by the House of Commons and proposed by the Prime Minister with the agreement of the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. An arrangement on these lines could be devised for the chairman of the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

36.  We recommend that the appointment of the chairman of the Independent Police Complaints Commission should be with the 'advice and consent' of the House of Commons.


37.  A new complaints body is only the apex of a wider system of police discipline. The Bill contains only two other clauses dealing with this subject (clauses 33 and 34). Clause 34 (conduct of disciplinary proceedings) provides for the Independent Police Complaints Commission to be involved in disciplinary proceedings arising from a complaint. It also allows for supporters of complainants to attend disciplinary hearings. A third provision would enable an inference to be drawn from a failure to mention a fact when questioned or charged in police disciplinary proceedings (in line with section 34 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994). The need for improvements to police discipline procedures was set out by the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police:

38.  The Police Federation did not agree:

    "We think [police discipline procedures] 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...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 has worked well in the past and it works well now".[38]

39.  The Metropolitan Police Service has told us of the changes they would like made in disciplinary procedures.[39] Those proposals are:

  •   there should be provision for compulsory testing of staff for substance abuse
  •   it should be possible for a written warning to be given by a superintendent in cases where the officer concerned does not admit the conduct complained of
  •   it should be possible to dismiss a probationer constable on the grounds of poor conduct as an alternative to holding a discipline board
  •   chief constables should have more discretion about whether to refer to the Crown Prosecution Service all cases originating from a public complaint that an officer committed a criminal offence where this would delay misconduct proceedings.

40.  We support the proposed changes to the police disciplinary procedures in the Bill, but we share the view of the Metropolitan Police Service that they do not go far enough. We believe that, so far as possible, police disciplinary procedures ought to reflect those in other walks of life. The current procedures were devised long before employment law gave protection against unfair dismissal. Taking modern employment law into account, police regulations could be simplified. We regret that the Government has not gone further in this Bill to reform police disciplinary procedures.

41.  One of our witnesses has drawn attention to a remaining lacuna: clause 24 (Forces maintained otherwise than by police authorities) enables the Commission to make arrangements with the Ministry of Defence Police and British Transport Police for handling complaints but this would apply only in England and Wales, leaving some 1,000 officers in Scotland and Northern Ireland outwith the complaints procedures.[40]

42.  We understand that the Scottish Executive is consulting on plans to update its own police complaints system which would include police officers in these two forces. We also understand that protocols are being drawn up in Northern Ireland to bring such officers serving there within the remit of the new Ombudsman. We believe that Ministry of Defence Police and British Transport Police operating in Scotland and Northern Ireland should be covered by complaints procedures similar to those in England and Wales.

31   Ev 130. Back

32   Ev 117. Back

33   Q. 163 (Clint Elliott). Back

34   First Report, 1997-98, HC 258, para 133. Back

35   Q. 350. Back

36   Q. 551 (John Denham). Back

37   Q. 132, 5 February 2002 (Sir John Stevens). Back

38   Q. 165 (Clint Elliott). Back

39   Ev 122. Back

40   Ev 153. Back

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