My Lords, I support this amendment. The basic problem around IOPC investigations is one of timeliness and quality. I am afraid it has gone on an awful long time. To be fair, from time to time it concerns police investigations under other bodies, but it has persisted, despite the fact that the organisation has changed over the years from the IPCC to now the IOPC. This particularly affected groups of officers such as firearms officers, some of whom have been under investigation for in excess of 10 years. That cannot be for anyone’s good.
We talked earlier about the trauma suffered by individual officers, and that is one of the major causes of such trauma. I therefore think that some time kind of time limit would be helpful. Even in a criminal case such as murder, the point from commitment to arriving at Crown Court is expected to be of the order of 100 days. If such a complex case can be taken so quickly, it seems to me that these cases are surely susceptible to travelling far more quickly and then being decided in the hearing far more quickly, too.
There are some peculiarities around the police misconduct process which have to be understood and, I think, given some sympathy—but these things can be changed. For example, when a complaint is made, particularly where a criminal allegation is alleged, there is a transmission of the case, first from the force to the IOPC, then it may go to the CPS, and then it may go back to the IOPC and then it may go to the force. This merry-go-round goes on for months. It is not at all unusual for these cases to go for at least one year and usually more, and for there still to be no outcome.
There is a further level of complication when, for example, special evidence needs to be given in a court case. It is difficult to talk about this in public, but essentially, when intelligence is gathered by the police that cannot be shared in court and cannot be shared in a coroner’s court, a public inquiry has to be held in front of a qualified judge. All this does is lengthen the whole process. It particularly affects firearms officers when they have to justify why they shot someone and they are unable to explain the intelligence they received. It means that the whole process goes round this rigmarole again.
There are various remedies to try to resolve this. One is a simple time limit. The difficulty with a time limit is that it can be hard-line and does not fit every case. Sometimes you need some discretion. I would argue that the decision-making between the IOPC, the CPS and the force should be done in parallel and not in sequence. The consequence of it being done in sequence is that it keeps going on and on and they keep referring it back to each other. Surely, they could consider the same case in parallel and therefore reduce the time. It would be a good idea to have a legally qualified chair seriously examining the timeline and whether or not it is justified. If it is not justified, the chair should be able to intervene. If it is justified, of course the case should continue.
My final point may be to one side of the amendment, but it is important because it goes to the point about timeliness and quality. One of the challenges faced by the IOPC is that it does not always send its most experienced investigators to deal with the most complex cases. The equivalent for the police service would be that you never send your shoplifting squad to deal with a murder—that would not be very sensible. Officers build their experience in the shoplifting squad and may go on to do more complex things.
The reason may be, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said, that the IOPC has insufficient resources. I think it also has insufficient specialism and does not build up its expertise. When a serious case comes in—someone loses their life or it is a serious allegation—they should dispatch the A team, not the people who happen to be available. I do not think that does anyone any good when they have to deal with serious matters which the families want straight answers to and the officers want to believe that the investigators have some maturity of judgment. It is not a matter of age but a matter of experience. For those reasons, the IOPC should consider this. It is not exactly pertinent to the amendment, but it is relevant to the discussion about quality that we can fairly have about IOPC investigations at the moment.