Under the Police Reform Act 2002, the Independent Police Complaints Commission has powers to require the police to refer complaints or recordable conduct matters to it. It can also require forces to refer incidents in which there has been a death or serious injury following police contact. However, it must wait until the force complies with its referral request before it can consider the next steps, which include starting an investigation. Occasionally, there might be disagreement between the IPCC and a force—for example, over the severity of the matter or which force should have to record and refer it. That causes unnecessary delay that can serve only to undermine public confidence in the system, causing the IPCC to be seen as unresponsive and too reliant on the bodies it oversees.
Our intention has always been to ensure that, like several other ombudsman organisations, the IPCC has the ability to initiate investigations into matters that come to its attention. Clause 14 would achieve that by allowing the IPCC to request a referral, as it now can, and subsequently treating that matter as having been referred, either when the force complies with the request or after a certain time period expires. Although that would enable the IPCC to initiate investigations more quickly in the absence of a referral, the requirement for a minimum time period to elapse before the IPCC can initiate its investigations could still cause delay at the beginning of the investigation. Also, clause 14 would not fully address the perception that the IPCC is reliant on the police to permit it to begin its investigations. Although it would go a long way towards remedying the problem, on reflection we want to replace it with an even stronger power.
New clause 1 will provide the IPCC with an unambiguous power of initiative. It will enable the IPCC to treat a complaint, conduct matter or DSI—death or serious injury—matter that comes to its attention as having been referred to it immediately. If the IPCC chooses to treat the matter as such, it will then notify the force, which must record it if it has not been recorded already. As the public would expect, the IPCC will not be reliant on the forces it oversees to refer matters, and it will be able to take swift action to decide whether an investigation should take place and, if necessary, commence that investigation. I therefore commend new clause 1 to the Committee and propose that clause 14 should not stand part of the Bill.
I agree substantially with what the Minister has said. These are sensible arrangements designed to make investigations quicker and more effective, which is in everyone’s interests, in respect of both the police service and the public, not least because time and again we hear complaints from the public and the police that they drag on forever. We are content with the proposals.