Guidance

Police super-complaints

Guidance on submitting a super-complaint about policing.

Introduction

This guidance is designed to help those making super-complaints on policing issues. It explains the super-complaint process and how super-complaints will be dealt with. It seeks to guide designated bodies on how to present a reasoned case for a super-complaint. It also aims to help designated bodies make comprehensive and robust super-complaints. We can then make sure the response addresses the concerns most appropriately.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary publishes this guidance under Regulation 5 of the Police Super-complaints (Criteria for the Making and Revocation of Designations) Regulations 2018. Further references in this guidance to ‘regulations’ mean either the Police Super-complaints (Criteria for the Making and Revocation of Designations) Regulations 2018 or the Police Super-complaints (Designation and Procedure) Regulations 2018.

Who is the guidance for?

This guidance is for bodies designated by the Home Secretary as entitled to make super-complaints. It also gives an overview of the process for others who may be the subject of super-complaints, for those who might be asked for information, and for members of the public who may be interested in the process or in the subjects at hand.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS), the College of Policing and the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) have drafted these guidelines together. The word ‘we’ in this document refers to the three organisations collectively.

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Super-complaints

View the super-complaint process diagram (PNG, 592KB) . (you can also read the text version of the super-complaint process (MS Word Document, 13.8KB) )

What is a super-complaint?

A super-complaint is a complaint made by a designated body that “a feature, or combination of features, of policing in England and Wales by one or more than one police force is, or appears to be, significantly harming the interests of the public.”(Section 29A, Police Reform Act 2002)

A police force includes the 43 police forces in England and Wales, the National Crime Agency, the Ministry of Defence Police, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary and the British Transport Police.

Super-complaints must be made to Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary. However, they will be considered by HMICFRS, the College of Policing and the IOPC, who will together decide what (if anything) needs to happen as a result of the super-complaint.

The super-complaints system is designed to identify systemic issues which are not otherwise dealt with by the existing complaints systems. When deciding whether to make a super-complaint, designated bodies should think carefully about whether the super-complaint route is the most effective, as the system is not intended to replace the existing complaint systems. For example, if you have found a potential individual conduct or performance problem that you want to be dealt with as a complaint, you should submit a separate complaint to the relevant force.

Who can make a super-complaint?

Only designated bodies can make a super-complaint. Section 29B, Police Reform Act 2002 explains that a designated body is a body which the Home Secretary has designated in regulations. When deciding whether to designate a body or to revoke their designation, the Home Secretary will apply the criteria set out in the regulations.

Before you make a super-complaint

Before deciding whether to make a super-complaint, please check the super-complaints section of GOV.UK to see whether we are investigating, or have already investigated, the matter you want to raise with us. A super-complaint which repeats the substance of a super-complaint which is being investigated is not eligible for consideration. If we have already investigated the substance of a super-complaint, we will not do so again unless there has been a material change of circumstances since the previous super-complaint was made.

If you are considering making a super-complaint, we encourage you to contact us at policesupercomplaint@hmicfrs.gov.uk

If you talk to us early about your proposed super-complaint, we can:

  • explain the various police complaints systems to you, so you can decide the best way to address the matters you would like to raise
  • explain what you need to do when making a super-complaint
  • highlight any gaps in the information or analysis you have shown us, resulting in a better quality super-complaint
  • carry out some preliminary research and planning

An early discussion also allows us to tell you about other work which we are doing that may address the issues you want to raise.

We ask that you notify us in advance of making a super-complaint using this online form. If you wish to make a super-complaint, please fill this in when you are ready to do so. The notice gives us some basic information about the proposed super-complaint, including what you are concerned about and when you intend to make the super-complaint. We normally ask that you give us at least six weeks’ notice before making the super-complaint.

What needs to be in a super-complaint?

A super-complaint should:

  • set out a description of the feature, or combination of features, of policing that is or appears to be significantly harming the interests of the public
  • explain which police force(s) is responsible for the feature(s)
  • explain the nature and scale of harm to the interests of the public that the feature(s) is or appears to be causing, including whether particular groups or communities may be especially vulnerable to harm
  • explain why the feature, or combination of features, is or appears to be, causing significant harm to the interests of the public
  • be supported, wherever possible, by documented facts and evidence, including details of any relevant legislation, guidance, policies or practices that the relevant police force or forces may be failing to comply with, or as the case may, be following, or that may otherwise be relevant
  • provide an explanation of how the designated body has assessed or estimated the potential harm to the interests of the public
  • set out what outcome(s) the designated body is looking for
  • give the name of a contact at the designated body making the super-complaint

The quality of the evidence you give us is critical, as are the specification and focus of your complaint. These will help us assess whether your super-complaint is eligible for consideration. Annex A sets out the kind of evidence designated bodies should consider giving us when deciding whether to make a super-complaint.

To whom should a super-complaint be made?

A super-complaint should be made in writing to Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary. Please email policesupercomplaint@hmicfrs.gov.uk.

How will we assess the eligibility of super-complaints?

Once we receive your super-complaint, we will acknowledge it within five working days and let you know who will be your main contact at HMICFRS while we are considering the super-complaint. Your point of contact will make sure you are kept up to date with the progress of the super-complaint.

We will examine the super-complaint in detail to see whether it meets the criteria set out in the regulations. To be eligible for consideration, a super-complaint must:

  • be in writing
  • set out the feature, or combination of features, of policing it relates to
  • explain why the designated body is of the opinion that the feature, or combination of features, is or appears to be significantly harming the interests of the public
  • include the evidence the designated body is relying on to support that opinion
  • include the name of someone representing the designated body who may be contacted about the complaint

If we decide it is eligible, HMCFRS will let you know that the super-complaint will be investigated. If we decide it is not eligible, HMCFRS will write to you to explain why.

How will eligible super-complaints be investigated?

If a super-complaint is eligible, we will investigate it. We will assess the quality of the information and evidence you have given us, and arrange a meeting with you as soon as possible to discuss the evidence.

The team appointed to investigate the super-complaint may need to carry out wider enquiries to test the evidence you have given us and get more information. We will decide exactly what we need on a case-by-case basis, but it may involve:

  • talking to you about the information you have given us
  • further research
  • requests for information
  • approaching other public bodies or government departments for information
  • commissioning data or research

We will consider all the matters raised by the super-complaint, but may also have to broaden what we consider if it appears to us that wider concerns are relevant. Equally, we may focus on some of the matters you have raised in more depth than others.

How will we keep you updated?

The contact person within the investigating team will keep you informed of progress and will contact you for clarification or further information. We will write to you every 56 working days to explain what we have done and to set out what we propose to do in the next 56 working days.

How will decisions be taken on the super-complaint?

A panel comprising senior officials from HMICFRS, the College of Policing and IOPC will meet to consider the issues raised by the super-complaint.

How will we respond to a super-complaint?

Once we have decided how to respond to the super-complaint, we will send you a report, which will also be published. The report will explain:

  • what we have done to consider the issues you have raised
  • how we have assessed the evidence you gave us
  • a summary of any extra research we have carried out
  • what we have decided on the issues you have raised
  • what we have decided should be done as a result; this may include making recommendations to any other body or organisation.

We may need to exclude from the report any information disclosure of which, in the opinion of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, would be contrary to the interests of national security or might jeopardise the safety of any person.

Things that could happen as a result of a super-complaint include:

  • an inspection by HMICFRS
  • an investigation by IOPC
  • changes to existing policing standards or support materials from the College of Policing
  • a recommendation that another public body is better placed to deal with the issue
  • a recommendation to one or more police forces to change practices or local policies
  • a recommendation to another public body or government department to consider taking action to respond to the super-complaint or a related matter
  • finding the super-complaint needs no action
  • finding the super-complaint is unfounded

This list is not exhaustive and we do not believe there should be a universal approach to super-complaints. We will consider each super-complaint on its individual merits and respond appropriately.

Any actions will be restricted to the existing statutory powers of HMICFRS, the College of Policing and IOPC. Any action taken will be subject to the usual procedures and controls each organisation must follow. Each body has different powers, and can only act where empowered to do so. Annex B summarises the functions of each body.

What happens after we have published our response to the super-complaint?

The investigation into the super-complaint itself will be concluded once we have issued a report. If HMICFRS, the College of Policing and/or IOPC will be taking further action in response, the individual organisation will have responsibility for that work and any updates.

Evaluation

After the response has been published, there may be an evaluation of the super-complaint process. If there is, we will contact you and invite you to give feedback on the process.

Prioritising super-complaints

If we receive more than one super-complaint at a time, we may need to prioritise which to proceed with first. We will focus on the nature of the harm which is said to be taking place, who is affected (and whether they are vulnerable) and how widespread we assess the harm to be. Where appropriate, we will review prioritisation decisions.

Confidentiality

You must tell us about any information in your super-complaint and supporting documents you consider to be confidential and which, if disclosed, could significantly harm your or anyone else’s legitimate interests. You must also explain why you consider the information to be confidential.

Blanket claims of confidentiality are not acceptable. You should bear in mind that if we cannot provide your information to others, this may hamper our ability fully to investigate your complaint.

If you give us any information about the sexual abuse of a person who is or who we reasonably suspect may be under 18, we will report it to the relevant police force or to Operation Hydrant, the police operation that co-ordinates the response to non-recent child sexual abuse. We will do this even if you have told us you want the information to stay confidential.

Media activity

Once we have received a super-complaint, we will publish an acknowledgement on GOV.UK. We will then publish an update on GOV.UK to say whether we have assessed the super-complaint to be eligible for investigation. We may also issue press notices.

We will give you notice of any publication on GOV.UK or if we intend to issue a press notice. It is up to you to decide whether to issue a press notice about your super-complaint at any stage in the process. Please let HMICFRS’s press office know if you intend to do this (HMICPressOffice@hmicfrs.gov.uk).

If we investigate a super-complaint, we will send you and publish the report of our response. We will give you notice of our intention to publish our response.

If the media approaches us before the conclusion of the super-complaint, we may decide to issue a statement. If so, HMICFRS’s press office will let you know about the media approach and the statement. If you are approached by the media for a statement, please let HMICFRS’s press office know.

Updating this guidance

We may update this guidance in the light of further experience of handling super-complaints.

Annex A:

Sources of evidence you should consider providing when deciding whether to make a super-complaint include:

  • publicly available performance data or documents relevant to the issues – these could include material available on police force websites, on police and crime commissioner (PCC) or police authority websites or on the IOPC website
  • official statistics relevant to the issues – these may be published by the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice or the Office for National Statistics
  • parliamentary select committee reports and findings or inquiry findings
  • HMICFRS inspection reports and data
  • relevant research that you may have carried out
  • views of academic and professional experts
  • any related reports you or others have already published, including reports from regulators or other inspectorates
  • any relevant working group, focus group or community group notes or minutes on matters relevant to the super-complaint
  • relevant correspondence with the force(s), the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), any Police and Crime Commissioner or police authority
  • any previous correspondence with HMICFRS, the College of Policing or the IOPC about the matters raised by the super-complaint

Annex B:

HMICFRS, the College of Policing and the IOPC’s functions.

HMICFRS

HMICFRS assesses and reports on the effectiveness and efficiency of police forces, independently and in the public interest. We visit police forces and other major policing bodies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, carrying out inspections or reviews ranging from individual functional areas – such as crime – through to force-level legitimacy and leadership. We also look at critical national topics and themes across the police service as a whole.

Subject to suitable funding being available, in response to a super-complaint, HMICFRS can undertake a range of action, including inspection or scoping work, to consider whether an inspection is necessary, or is likely to result in improvements to policing.

Inspections can take many forms and can be conducted with other criminal justice inspectorates.

HMICFRS inspection activity can lead to making recommendations in reports on inspections.

Read more information about the work of HMICFRS.

College of Policing

The College of Policing has three complementary functions:

Knowledge

Developing the research and infrastructure for growing evidence of ‘what works’. Over time, this will ensure that policing practice and standards are based on knowledge rather than custom and convention.

Education

Supporting the development of individual members of the profession. The College of Policing sets educational requirements to assure the public of the quality and consistency of policing skills, and facilitates the academic accreditation and recognition of members’ expertise.

Standards

Drawing on the best available evidence of ‘what works’ to set standards in policing for forces and individuals. Examples include Authorised Professional Practice (APP) and peer review.

Subject to available resources, the College of Policing can review the policing knowledge base, use its legal powers (to request the laying of Codes of Practice, or regulations relating to the training or qualification for officers and staff), use its influence and connection with members and its ability to set educational requirements and test new ideas, aimed at improving the knowledge, skills and professional development of police officers and staff.

IOPC

The IOPC began work on 8 January 2018. It replaced the former Independent Police Complaints Commission.

The IOPC oversees the police complaints system in England and Wales and sets the standards by which the police should handle complaints.

It is autonomous, making its decisions independently of the police, government and interest groups. It investigates the most serious complaints and incidents involving the police, as well as handling certain appeals from people who are not satisfied with the way the police have dealt with their complaint.

Furthermore, as part of the IOPC’s role in securing and maintaining public confidence in the complaints system, the IOPC uses learning from its work to improve the system and influence changes in policing.

Read more information about the work of the IOPC.

In response to a super-complaint, there may be pieces of work that the IOPC can carry out, such as looking at any lessons learned that have emerged from relevant investigations and appeals. Additionally, the IOPC may decide to carry out an independent investigation if particular criteria are met. At the end of the investigation, the IOPC may identify learning for forces and make recommendations.

Read more information about our investigations

Published 23 October 2018