As of 8th January 2018, the former Independent Police Complaints Commission changed to the Independent Office for Police Conduct. The change was agreed through the Police and Crime Act 2017.
It is certainly not the first time there has been a proposed ‘shake up’ of the police complaints system, with ministers suggesting the new IOPC ‘will bring about speedier decision-making and greater accountability to the public.’
So, what are the changes?
Well, apart from a new logo, new title and new website, the IOPC does bring in some change. It has been designed to bring about more public confidence, independency and trust. It must be said that much of the ‘planned changes’ are to be introduced throughout the year.
The key changes are
- The organisation will be led by a director general instead of several commissioners. The director general will be appointed by the Queen
It is understood that the following changes will also happen
- There will be a new broad definition of a complaint
- In the new system, the IOPC can give an apology, but if the complainant is not satisfied or does not consider it to be resolved, then this has to go to a formal process
- There is no local resolution/investigation division, there must just be reasonable and proportionate steps taken to resolve the complaint – as general as that
- In terms of appeals, it is understood that they will not be going to the local forces any more, instead, they must be referred to the Police and Crime Commissioner (‘PCC’) or to the IOPC
- There will only be one appeal and it will be against the outcome, not the process
- With regards to IOPC investigations, the big change is that the IOPC will consider if there is a case to answer or not and if there is, then it will got to the disciplinary stage
- The IOPC will have the power to initiate its own investigation, without waiting for a referral from a force
Certainly, some of the proposed changes, on the face of it, seem promising. One of the main issues I have encountered in the past, is when the former IPCC had upheld a complaint, they were still required to ask the force to implement their decision. The force were able to reject this proposition, which they often did. It then requires the investigating officer to utilise their own powers to force through the proposed action plan that they had suggested.
In my experience, the former IPCC were reluctant to do so.
However, the IOPC seem to be taking back some of that control. The indication is that if the IOPC consider there is a case to answer, it will go to the disciplinary stage.
Furthermore, it seems positive that appeals will be dealt with by either the PCC or IOPC. As some of you may be aware, in a lot of cases, the appeals body was the local force. This, in my opinion, did nothing to ensure the public that their complaint was being dealt with independently, or with the thoroughness required. Of course, it is not yet known how the PCC or the IOPC will handle such complaints.
As noted, some of these changes are yet to happen.
I have seen much promise over the last few years, indications that the complaints system will become more independent and that public trust will be restored. The reason the IOPC has been created, is because many of those promises have been broken and not acted upon. Many individuals are left frustrated with the complaints system, feeling as though things are often “swept under the carpet” and that there is little accountability.
I have acted for many clients over the years and routinely secured positive outcomes for them, both through the complaints procedure and civil courts. It has been a frustrating process for myself, often fighting against forces who seem unwilling to discipline officers who have clearly over stepped the mark.
I sympathise with those clients who have tried to go through this process alone. My experience is that those clients are treated far worse than those who obtain legal advice. Let’s hope the new IOPC tackles this issue and is a more robust organisation than the previous IPCC.
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