From 1 February 2020 all police complaints will be dealt with under a revised framework overseen by the Independent Office of Police Conduct. Although some of the elements of the previous system have been retained, and Part II and Schedule 3 of the Police Reform Act 2002 have been re-vamped to accommodate the changes, it is important to know where to find the various documents which now govern police complaints.
The Legal Action Group will be publishing the 5th edition of Police Misconduct: Legal Remedies later this year, which will contain a detailed analysis of the revised processes.
In the meantime, here is an overview of the statutory, regulatory and policy framework for the police complaints system and the linked system for disciplinary procedures:-
Part 2 of the Police Reform Act 2002 provides the basic structure for the IOPC, its functions and the outlines of the complaints system. It has been heavily amended since its inception.
- Schedule 3 to the PRA 2002 provides the detail as to how the complaints procedure operates, and has also be widely amended for the purposes of the new system.
- Further detail for the complaints process is contained in the Police (Complaints and Misconduct) Regulations 2020, including matters such as disclosure, recording of complaints, special procedures and severity assessments.
- The Police (Conduct) Regulations 2020 are also relevant and contain the Standards of Professional Behaviour for the Police in Schedule 2. These regulations govern the disciplinary processes involving police officers including details of the operation of misconduct proceedings and appeals. The College of Policing provides additional ‘Guidance on outcomes in police misconduct proceedings’ which further explains what the disciplinary process is designed to achieve.
- The IOPC has published very detailed ‘Statutory guidance on the police complaints system’ using its powers under s22 of the PRA 2002. The guidance should be followed by the police when investigating complaints. The latest version is dated February 2020. The guidance should be read in conjunction with:
- The IOPC Statutory guidance on achieving best evidence in death and serious injury matters is also issued under s22 of the PRA 2002. It contains important information as to the initial steps that the police should take in death and serious injury matters, including the usual practice of not allowing officers to confer before giving an initial account of the incident. The IOPC also links to the College of Policing professional practice document on armed policy and in particular the post-deployment section of that document.
- The IOPC also publishes Focus designed to give police force professional standards departments (PSDs) practical guidance on dealing with complaints, conduct matters, and death or serious injury cases. It is also useful for police complaints advisers seeking to understand how the system works in practice and contains case examples in each issue. The latest editions in April 2020 deal with reasonable and proportionate outcomes in relation to police complaints and reviews of police complaints decisions.
- Of greater relevance to the performance and disciplinary aspects of the system, but also relevant to the police complaints practitioner is the Home Office guidance on ‘Conduct, efficiency and effectiveness: statutory guidance on professional standards, performance and integrity in policing’. It deals with all aspects of police discipline and performance, including the relevance of the complaints system to the process.