In a submission to the Home Affairs Select Committee Inquiry into the operation of the IPCC, Netpol has set out the reasons why the police complaints procedures is inadequate, inappropriate and unjust.
- The Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) is a network of organisations with an interest in monitoring or observing policing. This includes organisations based within a set community, such as the Newham Monitoring Project, and those that work directly with protest, such as the Green and Black Cross. Netpol acts as a focus for campaigns against aspects of policing that are viewed as excessive or oppressive.
- This submission relates to the role of the IPCC in policing complaints emanating from protest and public order policing. The Newham Monitoring Project (NMP), a Netpol partner, has provided their own submission based on the client group NMP serves – people from Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic or Refugee (BAMER) backgrounds. Netpol would also adopt and support this submission.
- The demographic of protest is remarkably varied. Over the last few years Netpol or its partners have provided observers and monitors to a large range of protest and public order policed events, including community based demonstrations and football matches. We therefore feel that the feedback we receive is indicative of the views of a significant section of society.
- Across this demographic confidence in the police complaints system is very low. The perception that ‘there is no point’ in making a complaint is commonly held. There is also significant anxiety that making a complaint will result in increased police attention, surveillance or harassment.
- The great majority of complaints are dealt with, in the first instance, by the professional standards department of the relevant force. For most complainants, therefore, the overall experience is not one of interaction with an independent body. They must deal directly with the very force they are registering their complaint against.
- Protesters who wish to make a complaint regarding police conduct are frequently obliged to do so without legal representation as the number of lawyers experienced in this area of law is very small and those able to provide legal aid even smaller. This is a particular problem outside London. Complainants are at a great disadvantage and some vulnerability given the disproportionate resources, knowledge and influence the police possess. The police are known to apply pressure on individuals not to pursue a complaint, or to pursue it through the local resolution process in circumstances which are inappropriate. The local resolution process cannot result in disciplinary action beyond ‘words of advice.’
- Professional standards departments carrying out investigations commonly request complainants to participate in an interview, either in their homes or at a police station. Complainants may feel uncomfortable and intimidated by this process, and have reported being treated in a brusque, aggressive or accusative manner by investigating officers. This is obviously of greater concern when a complainant does not have legal representation.
- The function of the IPCC in carrying out appeals is fundamentally flawed. The appeals system is complex and not easily understood by the general public. It is not widely known that the role of the IPCC is only to review the investigation in to the complaint and not to re-investigate the complaint. This ultimately means that the IPCC will often simply review whether the proper steps have been taken by the investigator in terms of gathering evidence and taking statements, and not whether the conclusions drawn are the logical outcome of the evidence. There is therefore an over-reliance on the original findings and insufficient probing of the factual or legal matters. This means that, especially in the case of those who do not have legal representation, the process becomes ineffective and difficult with an unsatisfactory outcome. The overall feeling is that it was not worth engaging with the process in the first place as the IPCC is not an independent mediator.
- Further, the narrow remit of the IPCC means that there is little scope for making complaints about police behaviour at political protest. Most complaints relating to the misuse of police powers or the excessive use of force are classified as ‘direction and control complaints’, and thus fall outside of the remit of the IPCC.
- There is insufficient clarity regarding procedures for making direction and control complaints. The IPCC simply advises complainants to make a complaint directly to the police force concerned; with recourse to the police commissioner or Chief Constable if that is unsatisfied with the outcome. Netpol’s experience of submitting direction and control complaints is not a happy one. Complaints made to the Metropolitan Police in February have not been responded to or even acknowledged.
- It is not always easy for a member of the public to differentiate between a complaint within the remit of the IPCC, and a direction and control complaint, particularly in the context of a public order situation. This can lead to a feeling that a person is being ‘sent around the houses’ when trying to raise issues of importance in the conduct of policing.
- There is a need to establish a single point of contact for all policing complaints, including direction and control complaints, and a transparent, easily understood structure for the resolution of all complaints. The distinction between a misconduct complaint and a direction and control complaint is not always easy to define, particularly for a member of the public. All complainants should have the right to know that their complaint will be taken seriously and properly investigated, and there should be absolute clarity in procedure.
- The public is unlikely to have confidence in any complaints system which places so much emphasis on internal investigation by police officers. For confidence to increase there needs to be a body which is demonstrably independent from any police force, and which has sufficient powers, resources and will to robustly investigate police misconduct.
- More should be done to provide independent support and advice to unrepresented complainants at all stages of the complaints procedure, and to redress the imbalance of power between police and complainant. The use of informal or local resolution systems should be independently monitored to ensure that it is not used inappropriately in relation to conduct that would justify criminal or disciplinary proceedings.
- Consideration should be given as to whether the sanctions applied to police officers as a result of disciplinary hearings are appropriate and sufficient, and a review should be carried out to find the causes of the low level of successful misconduct proceedings.