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.
WHAT would you do if you found yourself being wrongly accused of a crime and were unhappy at your treatment at the hands of the law?
There’s no doubt you would fight your corner and do all you could to prove your innocence, including making strong representations to the police about the poor handling of their investigations.
Whilst police forces deal with the majority of complaints against police officers and police staff, the Independent Police Claims Commission (IPCC) is called upon to consider appeals from people who are dissatisfied with the way a police force has dealt with their complaint.
Recent figures showed a steep rise in the number and percentage of successful appeals against the actual investigation of complaints by the police themselves – with 31 per cent of those appeals upheld by the IPCC compared to around 22 per cent the year previous.
It means nearly a third of police investigations appealed to the IPCC by members of the public were deficient, a figure which is concerning to see.
Protecting your reputation and challenging any wrongful police action against you would never be a waste of time, however, making a complaint about a police investigation can be a lengthy and frustrating process.
The law dictates that everybody has the right to make an official complaint over any police investigation. Police forces are expected to take them seriously, and they must listen and act in a fair and balanced way to seek to put things right.
The failure of police forces to handle complaints appropriately can only damage public confidence in the role they play. It places a huge question mark over their integrity in terms of their willingness to put themselves under the microscope when complaints are made, and suggests a growing trend of forces unwilling to accept when they have got things wrong.
In my role at Neil Hudgell Solicitors, it is usually during the complaints process that my involvement is greatest for my clients.
I handle many claims against the police in cases ranging from unlawful arrest to human rights breaches, and see all too often how the complaints system frustrates and angers innocent people, and how they need legal representation to start getting the answers they deserve.
From the start, forces appear reluctant to fully consider and investigate the errors they are alleged to have made, and appeals drag on for months as a result before any acceptance of error is made, or perhaps even more rarely, an apology is issued and compensation paid,
We all accept and understand that police officers will sometimes make errors in the bid to bring criminals to justice. They often have little time to act under high pressure, and have to take decisive action.
However, when mistakes are made, there needs to be a culture of transparency and honesty.
This is important firstly for those wrongly accused and poorly treated, but also to ensure forces learn lessons and make improvements going forward.