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The next stage in the Government’s ‘radical reform’ of policing in England and Wales is major changes to the police complaints system. Its proposals are aimed at improving police integrity and boosting low public confidence in procedures that have proved confusing, frustrating and ineffective. It wants to make the system fairer, easier to understand and more transparent.

The current police complaints system is detailed in the Library briefing paper Police complaints systems in the UK.

A review conducted by the Home Office found the public and police officers alike had little faith in the current system. Complainants doubted grievances would be dealt with fairly or effectively. Police officers felt tied-up by vexatious complaints and unable to admit mistakes for fear of them being labelled as misconduct.

The Government’s proposals amount to significant structural change. Directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) will come to the fore, determining how complaints are dealt with at a local level. They will have discretion to choose whether to record and determine complaints themselves, or to supervise how their local police force exercises such functions. PCCs will also hear appeals against the handling of complaints deemed suitable for local resolution.

The goal of a more ‘complainant-focussed system’ will see changes to the language used, with the abandonment of confusing terms and the extension of the definition of ‘complaint’ to cover not only the conduct of individual police officers but policing practices and service failure as well. All complaints will now be recorded.

To respond to criticisms that the police complaints system does not listen to communities or groups affected by particular trends or habits in policing, the Government promises to import the ‘super-complaint’ concept from the worlds of financial regulation and consumer affairs. NGOs and charities given super-complainant status will be empowered to lodge complaints as a means of raising systemic issues and ensuring all voices are heard.


Documents to download

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