The role of the Independent Police Complaints Commission

The importance of having transparency and accountability amongst law enforcement is the one of the key principles in the formation of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

Any public body with power, authority and influence runs the risk of bribery and corruption. A way of maintaining public confidence in the system is by having a regulatory body working alongside it to investigate complaints.

The IPCC oversees the police complaints system in England and Wales – but it is entirely independent of the police and Government.

If an individual has a complaint to make about the police, they initially present it to the police force. If they are then dissatisfied with how their complaint has been handled, they can make an appeal for the IPCC to investigate.

However, with the most serious complaints, the IPCC can make the decision to manage or supervise the initial police investigation.

More than 4,500 appeals a year are made by the public to the IPCC requesting investigations into the way their complaint was handled by the police.

The IPCC have been responsible for investigating many complaints against the police, many of which have involved deaths in custody while also involving shootings and fatal traffic incidents.

Moreover, the IPCC uses what they have learnt from their various investigations to influence a change in policing, customer service and best practice.

As well as the various police forces across England and Wales, the IPCC is also responsible for dealing with serious complaints relating to staff at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), Home Office immigration and enforcement staff and the National Crime Agency (NCA).

While the IPCC has ex-police officers who work as investigators, by law, the commissioners themselves cannot have ever worked in the police force. It is funded by the Home Office but is independent of pressure groups, political parties and, in principle, the Government.

Despite the investigators not being acting police officers, they carry the powers and privileges of a police constable when involved in a particular investigation throughout England and Wales.

The History of the IPCC

Two major events that called for the formation of an independent body were Lord Scarman’s inquiry into the Brixton Riots in 1981 and the 1999 Stephen Lawrence inquiry.

The human rights organization, Liberty, published a study in April 2000, under the title, ‘An independent police complaints commission’.

A month later, the government looked into this idea, producing a briefing note under the title, ‘Feasibility of an independent system for investigating complaints against the police’.

This then prompted the Police Reform Act 2002, which established the IPCC.

The IPCC came into operation in April 2004.

Prior to this, the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) handled all police complaints. The PCA had less power than the IPCC and was a replacement for the Police Complaints Board in April 1985.