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December 18th 2014

Andrew Petherbridge

Police can’t be both judge and jury when facing complaints over their actions

Andrew Petherbridge

Andrew Petherbridge

Legal Executive, Civil Liberties

Police can’t be both judge and jury when facing complaints over their actions

By Andrew Petherbridge, Associate of Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, Neil Hudgell Solicitors – an expert in handling claims against the police for unlawful arrest, unlawful detention, assault and human rights breaches.

By Andrew Petherbridge, Associate of Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, Neil Hudgell Solicitors – an expert in handling claims against the police for unlawful arrest, unlawful detention, assault and human rights breaches.

PLANS to strip police forces in England and Wales of powers to handle complaints against their own officers seem entirely sensible.

In what other area of law is the accused allowed to act as investigator, judge and jury when a complaint is made?

With plans already unveiled earlier this year to hold police disciplinary hearings in public, in front of independent, legally-qualified panels, Home Secretary Theresa May is now considering going a step further.

She has launched a consultation into whether the internal disciplinary system should now be taken away from the individual forces, with an independent body, such as the College of Policing, overseeing complaints.

The consultation also sets out new powers for the Independent Police Complaints Commission to strengthen its role as an independent oversight body.

Given my role as an Associate of Chartered Institute of Legal Executives at Neil Hudgell Solicitors, in which I handle a variety of claims against the police, it is only to be expected that those making complaints have a suspicion of unfairness.

And with the number of complaints rising from 22,898 in 2004-05 to 34,863 in 2013-14, the need to appear transparent and fair is surely becoming ever more important.

My clients range from those who have been wrongfully arrested and accused of serious offences such as murder to those who have been subjected to assaults by the police.

The last thing they want to hear from me is that they must battle through a lengthy, and often very difficult complaints procedure, administered by the very people they are accusing, to get their case started.

Mrs May is hoping the public will now share their views and experiences of the police complaints and disciplinary system before the consultation ends on in February.

She says aims are to simplify the complaints system and make it more transparent.

“This government has always been clear that the vast majority of police officers do their job honestly and with integrity,” she said.

“But the good work of the majority threatens to be damaged by a continuing series of events and revelations relating to police misconduct.”

Whatever the findings, it is hard to imagine a complainant ever being entirely happy with their case being investigated by the same force.

It simply doesn’t sit well, and a change can only be a positive move for all.

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