Committee reports on Independent Police Complaints Commission

31 March 2009

Public Accounts Committee report questions the effectiveness of Independent Police Complaints Commission and notes a lack of clarity about who has responsibility for monitoring the implementation of IPCC recommendations

Public Accounts Committee Chairman Edward Leigh MP says:

"In the nearly five years since it was set up, the workload of the Independent Police Complaints Commission has sharply increased, to the point where its staff are very hard pressed. Public confidence in the police complaints system looks to have improved."

"But when it comes to how effective the IPCC actually is, that’s where the questions start to be asked. Systems for checking the quality of its work are conspicuously absent. There is no external independent scrutiny. And the IPCC has no formal internal processes to monitor its work, exposing it to potential allegations of incompetence or bias."

"There has also been little attempt until recently to find out what those who experience the IPCC’s services really think of them. The views of complainants, police officers and appellants have not been routinely sought. And the Commission’s external advisory board is heavily weighted towards the interests of government, police and staff and under-represents the views of complainant groups."

"You would think that any organisation that makes recommendations would have a mechanism in place to monitor if they have been implemented. Not only does the IPCC have no such mechanism, no one else seems to have the responsibility for such monitoring. Our Committee would like this matter to be clarified by the Home Office."

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 15th report of this Session which examined how well the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is managing its resources, the adequacy of the IPCC’s quality assurance arrangements and how far the IPCC has sought to assess the impact of its work.

Since April 2004, the IPCC has been responsible for the police complaints system in England and Wales. The IPCC investigates complaints about police officers and staff, recommending what action should be taken by the police force concerned. Where necessary, it forwards information to the Crown Prosecution Service for a decision on possible prosecution. The IPCC gets involved either as a result of a direct complaint from the public or in response to a referral from the police. In cases involving death or serious injury the IPCC is required by statute to investigate.

In 2007–08, nearly 29,000 complaints were made against the police, the vast majority of which were dealt with locally by the relevant police force and did not involve the IPCC. Complaints of a more serious nature requiring IPCC involvement led to it opening 100 independent investigations in 2007–08, compared to 31 in 2004–05. The IPCC also received 4,141 appeals about local police investigations which was a four-fold increase on the number in 2004–05. As a result of its increasing workload, the IPCC has found itself working at above full capacity.

The IPCC has no formal quality control framework in place. The measures that do exist to assess quality have generally not been working as intended. The IPCC’s Commissioners have not been formally approving all investigation reports, one of their key responsibilities.

Public confidence in the police complaints system is essential. While the IPCC has commissioned research to look at levels of public confidence in the complaints system, it has not sought the views of complainants, police officers and appellants about their experiences of the IPCC’s processes. The absence of feedback from those who have had direct experience of dealing with the IPCC is a significant oversight which the IPCC is now in the process of rectifying.

There is a lack of clarity about who has responsibility for monitoring the implementation of IPCC recommendations. The IPCC accepts responsibility for recording each police force’s acceptance or rejection of the recommendations following an investigation, but not for monitoring the implementation of the recommendations. The IPCC has, therefore, only limited evidence on the impact of its work. No other organisation has responsibility for monitoring the implementation of IPCC recommendations. The Home Office needs to decide who should be carrying out this monitoring to ensure that there is a clear and well established line of accountability.

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