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October 9th 2015

Andrew Petherbridge

Police must investigate their own procedures to ensure fairness following complaints

Andrew Petherbridge

Andrew Petherbridge

Legal Executive and Head of Civil Liberties

Police must investigate their own procedures to ensure fairness following complaints

By Andrew Petherbridge, specialist in public law and civil liberties actions against the police at Hudgell Solicitors

By Andrew Petherbridge, specialist in public law and civil liberties actions against the police at Hudgell Solicitors

When it comes to making a complaint against a police force, people in the UK face an ‘over-complex’ system, the chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has said.

Complaints against the police have risen sharply, but wide inconsistencies in the way they are handled and investigated by forces across the country is causing concern.

According to the latest figures released, the number of allegations against police forces in England and Wales soared to 69,571 in the 12 months from April 2014 to April of this year – a 13 per cent rise.

Interestingly, when matters were handled and investigated by the forces involved themselves, just 19 per cent of complaint investigation appeals were successful. When cases were passed on to be considered by the IPCC, 39 per cent were successful.

Such a large discrepancy in outcomes between complaints being handled by forces themselves, and those which are heard by the IPCC, surely casts doubt over the fairness of hearings heard by forces themselves.

Large discrepancies in the way forces deal with complaints has also caused concern.

Some forces investigate around 70 per cent of complaints, whist others only investigate just 30 per cent, choosing instead to use ‘local resolution’, in which matters are dealt with informally, such as the complainant meeting the particular officer involved.

With such inconsistent results and approaches being used, it is no surprise that Chief Officers and Police and Crime Commissioners have been told to look carefully at their own forces and consider whether they are treating complainants fairly.

In my role for Hudgell Solicitors, in which I specialise in public law and civil liberties actions against the police, I meet many people who have genuine complaints regarding their treatment by a police force. Cases often involve wrongful arrest, unlawful detention, or assault by a police officer.

Having already been left aggrieved by their treatment, many find it daunting to then lodge an official complaint and be prepared to battle through the appeal process.

They certainly fear it won’t be a fair process, and my role is to ensure a full and proper investigation is conducted, and that a fair outcome is reached.

I completely agree with the comments of Dame Anne Owers, Chair of the IPCC, who has said that the current system is ‘over-complex and inconsistent’.

The Government is currently reviewing the matter with a view to introducing a new system aimed at improving the process for those making a complaint, and to give forces clearer direction. It is certainly needed.

The procedure needs to be as transparent as possible, leaving the complainant feeling their concerns have been heard, considered and fully investigated.

Anything less, and trust in the police force across the UK will only be further damaged.

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