Home Secretary (Theresa May):
On 22 July, I gave a statement to the House on this government’s ongoing work to ensure the highest standards of integrity in the police. I informed the House that I would undertake a number of reviews, including an end-to-end review of the police complaints system and an independent review of the police disciplinary system, led by Major General (Retd.) Chip Chapman. I am pleased to tell the House that these reviews have now concluded and the government is today launching a public consultation on reforms to improve police complaints and discipline to better hold police officers to account and deal with misconduct appropriately.
I have always been clear that I believe the vast majority of police officers in this country do their job honestly and with integrity. They put themselves in harm’s way to protect the public. They are cutting crime even as we reduce police spending. And the vast majority of officers do their work with a strong sense of fairness and duty. But as I have said before, the good work of the majority threatens to be damaged by a continuing series of events and revelations relating to police conduct.
This government has carried out a radical programme of reform of the policing landscape. We have given chief constables greater operational independence, by scrapping national targets, whilst at the same time strengthening local accountability to the public through the creation of directly-elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs). We have reformed police pay and conditions, established the College of Policing to improve police standards and beefed up the Independent Police Complaints Commission to take on all serious and sensitive cases. Crime has fallen by a fifth under this government, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales.
The reforms I am consulting on today will build on this programme of reform. The reviews show that the police complaints and disciplinary systems do not meet the standards that both the public and the police rightly expect. Those wishing to lodge a complaint find an opaque and bureaucratic system with insufficient independence. The police see a system designed to punish them, rather than one that provides feedback to help them improve performance.
The government’s proposed reforms put the public at the heart of the system, replacing bureaucracy and complexity with accountability and transparency. We propose giving Police and Crime Commissioners the powers to handle complaints in a way that makes sense for their local electorates. This includes PCCs taking on responsibility for how complaints appropriate for local resolution are dealt with, making sure that issues are resolved quickly and effectively. We propose giving the IPCC new powers, strengthening its role as an independent oversight body and building on this government’s commitment to transfer resources to enable the IPCC to investigate all serious and sensitive cases. We suggest the introduction of police super-complaints, a feature of the financial markets regulatory landscape, to allow designated organisations to present evidence of systemic problems to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), and give a voice to those who choose not to complain directly.
It is impossible to separate the police complaints and disciplinary systems and the government’s reforms also address the way in which police performance and misconduct matters are dealt with. I am grateful in this regard for Major General (Retd.) Chip Chapman’s thorough investigation and analysis of the police disciplinary system, which is published today alongside the government’s proposals. On 18 November I announced proposals to hold police disciplinary hearings in public with independent, legally-qualified, chairs and the intention to legislate in this Parliament. In addition, the government is now seeking views on the majority of the remaining Chapman recommendations, which include benchmarking to ensure consistency of sanctions; streamlining and integrating the performance management and misconduct processes; and consulting on merging the disciplinary systems for police officers and police staff.
Finally, the government has already announced a consultation on protections for police whistleblowers to ensure that concerns can be raised without fear of disciplinary action. Today’s consultation document contains further proposals, including strengthening the independent route for whistleblowing to the IPCC and allowing the IPCC to conduct investigations in a way that protects the identity of the whistleblower.
In addition, I am today announcing the commencement of the first triennial review of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, part of the government’s commitment to ensuring that public bodies continue to have regular independent challenge. The review will focus on examining whether the IPCC is operating efficiently and whether its control and governance arrangements continue to meet the recognised principles of good corporate governance. I will inform the House of the outcome of the review when it is completed.
These proposals are a key step of the government’s reform of the policing landscape, ensuring that, where the public have concerns about their contact with the police, these will be dealt with in a transparent, fair and effective way. These reforms are vital for securing confidence in this system and in the work of the police.
We will be consulting on these proposals for eight weeks and will respond to the consultation before the end of the Parliament. The consultation document has been published as a command paper (Cm 8976) and copies will be available from the Vote Office. A copy of Major-General Chapman’s report will be placed in the House Library. I hope that those with an interest in these very important matters will take the time to respond to the consultation.