HC Deb 22 April 1986 vol 96 cc176-7 3.47 pm
Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Police and Criminal Evidence Act to establish an entitlement for a complainant to have access to the report of the police on the substance of his or her complaint; and to make related provision. I have sought the leave of the House to introduce this Bill because I wish to remove a justified criticism of the present procedure, which was introduced under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1985. I have not introduced it as an anti-police measure. Indeed, in my view it is just as important to the majority of police that complaints can be investigated thoroughly and correctly, and that that can not only be done but be seen to be done.

In any free and democratic society it is essential to ensure that an individual has the right to make a complaint against those charged with protecting the community and enforcing the law and order. The number of police who give rise to such complaints, and the number of incidents, when seen in their true perspective, represent probably only a very small percentage. However, that does not mean that we do not have a problem.

The public's confidence in the police, and in their right to make a complaint in the knowledge that it will be fairly investigated, will be strengthened by the Bill. At present, after completion of an investigation, the complainant is given virtually no information by which to determine whether that investigation was carried out fairly. The complainant is ultimately notified if the Director of Public Prosecutions recommends any action. If no prosecution is recommended or instituted, the assistant chief constable then determines what disciplinary action, if any, should be taken. Many complainants feel that the action taken is not sufficient. However, it may be quite reasonable if the report has not been done fairly or adequately and the action taken is based solely on it. After all, if the basis of the report is wrong, the action taken will also be wrong.

The Bill provides for a complainant to have access to the substance of the report arising from his or her complaint. I do not expect the full details of all investigations to be given. Such a suggestion could inhibit an inquiry. In many cases there would be a substantial amount of material, but the substance of the report should sastisfy those concerned that all the relevant items had been investigated in a full and correct way.

I accept the point which has been put to me in the past 24 hours, that the individual complained about should have a right to see the substance of the report. I do not dispute that those complained against also have rights. It is possible that on a few occasions an unfair or unjustified complaint has been made. The essential point that I am pursuing is that it is important to bring this issue into the open. Secrecy breeds suspicion and allows uncertainty to remain. The problem is not new. It must have existed in almost all civilised societies. There is an old Roman saying—I shall not attempt the Latin version:

But who is to guard the guards themselves? I do not pretend that the measure will end all the criticisms of the present procedure. However, it will be a welcome improvement. It will assist Members of Parliament whose constituents raise this issue with them from time to time. Frequently, they hear only one side of the case. I recognise that, whatever the problem—whether it concerns housing or another subject—one hears only the favourable points and not the adverse factors which need to be taken into account.

I am dealing with two cases in my constituency arising from the police complaints procedure. Time does not permit me to go into the details. The point at issue is that neither complainant is satisfied with the outcome of his complaint and the resultant investigation or action. If the substance of the report were made available, the complainant would be able to see on what basis the decisions and actions had been taken, and I, too, could make such a judgment.

Both constituents feel that they have suffered an injustice and are not happy with the position. Because the investigations have been carried out by the police, albeit from another police force, my constituents do not feel that the investigations have been conducted fairly. They feel that all the points they have raised to support their cases may not have been taken into account and investigated fairly and fully. Without the substance of the report, the question must be unanswered.

When the police act unfairly or improperly, it is essential that an individual in a civilised society should be able to make a complaint, confident in the knowledge that it will be dealt with responsibly. I do not believe that such confidence exists. That is bad for the complainant, for the police and for society as a whole. The Bill will help to remove these doubts and will be an important step in strengthening and improving our present procedure. It is important that we take this step. This modest and sensible proposal will improve the position. On that basis, I hope that it will receive the support which it deserves.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Peter Pike, Mr. Don Dixon, Mr. Jack Straw, Mr. Tony Lloyd, Mr. Ron Davies, Mr. Sean Hughes, Mrs. Ann Clwyd, Mr. Andrew F. Bennett, Mr. Chris Smith, Mr. Allan Roberts, Mr. Gerald Bermingham and Mr. Richard Caborn.