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Association of Retired Senior IPS Officers (ARSIPSO)

This is with reference to my letter No. ARSIPSO/GS-BSD-4/2023 dated. 10/08/2023 on the 4th B.S. Das Memorial Lecture, which had to be rescheduled for unavoidable reasons.

The 4th B.S.Das Memorial Lecture to be delivered by Shri Anil Kumar Sinha, IAS (Retd.), on the subject Disaster Management: Creating Safer Communities, has now been rescheduled for October 14, 2023 as per the following:

Conference Room No. 2, India International Centre, Max Mueller Marg, New Delhi, October 14, 2023 (Saturday)

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POLICING THE POLICE - Experience in the United Kingdom - Sankar Sen, IPS (Retd.)


Policing the police is always a matter of concern in democratic societies. The police are vested with the authority of using legitimate and situationally justified force against the citizens. This power may be used or abused. The police may use force to protect the rights of the citizens and it may also use it in a manner that imperils the rights and liberties of citizens. Hence police powers must be subjected to effective checks and balances. And these checks and balances in a democratic system should be perceived as effective and dependable by the members of the public.

International experience dealing with police misconduct in different parts of the world shows that exclusive reliance on police self-regulation is not sufficient – capacity of the police to regulate itself is limited and very often does not carry conviction with the people. For this reason, the civilian oversight of the police has emerged as one of the means to exercise checks on police powers. In United Kingdom, this issue has engaged serious public attention since 1950s. Though the British police traditionally enjoy a good deal of public confidence and respect, there have been in the post-war years, a number of complaints regarding misuse of force and abuse of power by the police. These aberrations brought to the fore the question of police accountability. The Royal Commission of Police in 1962 examined in depth in the issue of police accountability and on the basis of recommendation of the commission, the Police Act of 1964 was enacted.

Earlier, when public confidence in police was high, criticisms against the police were muted. But when doubts began to emerge about the proper use of power by the police, it was felt that a more effective mechanism to prevent abuse of the power by the police has to be fashioned. The suspicious death of a man in 1962 in police custody followed by other cases of abuse of force by the police like Sheffield Rhino whip affair of 1963 coloured the debate leading to the Police Act of 1964. Under the Act of 1964, the chief constables were required to ensure that all complaints against the police were recorded and properly investigated. In serious cases, investigations will be conducted by investigators from outside the force and all cases in which a criminal offence has been committed will be referred to the Director of Police Prosecution (DPP). However, there were accusations of biased and slipshod investigations, as a large number of cases could not be substantiated. It was becoming difficult for the police to convince the critics that their in-house regulatory mechanism was alright and police officers were not allowed to escape punishment because of misplaced sympathy.

In 1976, the British government set up a part time body called Police Complaint Board (PCB) to monitor police investigations. Establishment of PCB evoked strong protests from the police, and particularly the senior officers. Sir Robert Mark, the well-known Commissioner of London Metropolitan Police, resigned in protest. This watchdog body, however, proved ineffective and somewhat toothless. It failed to command public confidence because of its lack of independent investigative powers and pro-establishment character of its members.

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE), 1984, swept away the PCB and replaced it by the Police Complaints Authority (PCA). Constitution of the PCA was the outcome of the enquiry report of Lord Scarman, who enquired into the Brixton riots in April, 1981, when at the center of Brixton hundreds of the young people, not all of them black, attacked the police and indulged in serious acts of vandalism. The PACE (1984) provides that PCA must supervise all complaints related to death or serious injury caused by the police. It is also empowered to do so in other cases of police misuse of power when it considers it necessary in public interest.

The PCA had no separate investigating agencies. It selected police officers from different police force and laid down the requirements for proper conduct for investigations. On completion of investigation, a report is submitted to the chief of the force concerned and the latter is to decide on the basis of the report if the officer has committed a criminal offence or not and whether he should be charged. If a decision is taken to charge the officer, the case is referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to decide whether to prosecute the officer. The legislation also provides for informal resolution of less serious complaints. About 40% of the complaints are dealt with in this informal fashion without reaching the Authority. If the complainant is not satisfied with the outcome, he is entitled for the settlement through a formal process. The key feature of the informal system is that the police officer can admit misconduct or offer apologies to the complainant without their statements being admissible against them.

A major study evaluating the PCA was done by Maguire and Corbett in 1991 (Complaints against the police – the Trend to External Review – edited by Andrew J. Goldsmith). The study revealed that the PCA failed to command adequate confidence from the complainants, the police and members of the public. In majority of the cases, allegations of misconduct against the police remained unsubstantiated. The advent of PCA did not bring about the substantial difference in the overall result. In 1989, there were only 765 substantiations out of a total of 9229 cases. Many complainants felt that the PCA was pro-police. Even senior police officer including a former police commissioner (Sir Peter Imbert) acknowledged that the PCA had not succeeded in winning confidence of public and the lack of confidence is more prominent among the minority- ethnic communities. This was corroborated in a public opinion survey carried out by the PCA.

Independent Police Complaints Commission
From April 2004, Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) replaced PCA in England and Wales. This change was effected with a view to enhancing public confidence in police service and ensuring greater police accountability. The new system is designed to be more open, transparent and fair. Under the new system, IPCC has much greater power to initiate, carry out and oversee police investigations. For the first time, there is now a legal obligation on the part of the police to record a complaint and inform the progress of investigation.

The IPCC in many ways emulates Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman - an independent and powerful body, which can scrutinize not only internal police enquiries but also in important sensational cases carry out its own investigations. It is now enquiring into the shooting of Charles-De-Menzees, a young electrician from Brazil, on 22 July 2005 by London Metropolitan Police. IPCC since its inception has carried out as many as 57 investigations and also supervised more than 1000 enquiries done by the police. However, the case of Menzees is by far the most delicate case now being investigated by the IPCC. Its findings are likely to have a major impact on the working of the London Metropolitan Police. An adverse report from IPCC may prove disastrous for the Commissioner of London Metropolitan Police, Ian Blair. John Wadham, Deputy Chairperson of the IPCC, fears that the relationship between the IPCC and the police may worsen as the enquiry continues. Earlier repeated attempts of the police to justify their conduct in the media provoked a sharp rebuke from the IPCC.

In England, the IPCC also faces another problem. Police is a beloved institution in England and the people are willing to give police officers always the benefit of doubt. The majority of the public in Britain feels that the British police are doing a fine job under very difficult circumstances and they need public support. A poll for the Economist in late July found that only 21% thought that the police had been wrong to shoot Menzees. Criticism of the police is thus frowned upon by large sections of the public.


- Sankar Sen, IPS (Retd.)
Senior Fellow, Institute of Social Sciences
Former Director General, National Human Rights Commission
Former Director, National Police Academy

The views and facts stated above are entirely the responsibility of the author and do not reflect the views of this Association in any manner.

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