Amendment 8

Part of Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Committee (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 20th October 2021.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department 5:30 pm, 20th October 2021

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, set out, this amendment seeks to further improve the timeliness of disciplinary and misconduct proceedings against police officers. It seeks to do this by amending existing regulations governing complaint and misconduct investigations by the IOPC, as well as those conducted by force professional standards departments. In substance, they seek to introduce a new system of separate independent adjudicators with powers to close down investigations which have taken longer than 12 months, where they decide that there is no “good and sufficient” reason for delay.

Again, with this amendment, I agree with the thrust of what the noble Lord and others said, namely that disciplinary and misconduct investigations should be conducted and completed in a timely fashion, for the reasons set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Hogan-Howe. Like the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, when I heard “10 years” I was utterly shocked. However, this amendment comes at a time when investigation timescales are already reducing and when the Government have worked hard to reduce bureaucracy in the system and not add to it.

Under the IOPC’s predecessor, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, investigations would on average take 11 months. Since 2018, under the IOPC, that has fallen by almost 30% to just eight months. The IOPC has closed more than 90% of its cases in under 12 months and is making strong progress on the number of cases that it closes in under nine months and even in under six months. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, said, it is in nobody’s interest for investigations to drag on for long periods unnecessarily. We recognise the impact that this can have on everyone concerned.

It might be helpful in terms of explaining the trajectory that the Government introduced a package of reforms in February last year to the police complaints and disciplinary systems. It included new provisions to improve timeliness, with an expectation that investigations will normally be completed within 12 months. If not, the investigating body must provide a written explanation of any delays and steps to bring the investigation to a conclusion. The Government expect the IOPC to go further, and it now has targets in its business plans to complete many of those investigations in under nine and six months, as I said.

There are a number of reasons why cases might take too long, including the complexity of a case, the time- scale being impacted by parallel criminal investigations, and delays in obtaining expert evidence or post-mortem reports. It might be further complicated by delays in obtaining accounts from key police witnesses and subjects. That said, it is not acceptable for investigations to go on for too long, but the trajectory of timescales is certainly downwards.

The noble Lord’s amendment would introduce an additional layer of cost and bureaucracy. It would also risk creating perverse incentives for investigators to rush to meet deadlines at the expense of the quality of an investigation, particularly in those complex cases or if historic matters are at stake.

If an investigation into police wrongdoing was terminated without being concluded and that officer might have had a case to answer for gross misconduct—I can think of very recent cases which are relevant here—this would significantly undermine public confidence and potentially the course of justice. I am sure that is not the intention of noble Lords.

The amendment also risks undermining the independence of the police disciplinary system, blurring the lines between when legally qualified persons are appointed to this role and when the same person is appointed as a legally qualified chair of a misconduct hearing. These individuals would be selected from the same pool. That fundamentally changes the role of a legally qualified chair and jeopardises the independence of their position and the disciplinary system.

In conclusion, the Government have already taken steps to reduce investigation timescales and we will be monitoring the timeliness of investigations, drawing on new data collection requirements that we introduced as part of recent reforms. I hope that, for the reasons I have outlined, the noble Lord will be happy to withdraw his amendment.