IPCC’s Work In Investigating Deaths: Progress Report
One of our most important functions at the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is the investigation of deaths following contact with the police. The importance of this work means that we need to be confident that we are carrying it out thoroughly, robustly and fairly. That is why we set up this review in 2012, and why we have engaged with a wide range of people, making sure that this included those who have been critical of our approach and our findings.
This has coincided with debates and discussions inside the IPCC about how we work, and how we can ensure quality and consistency. It also overlapped with Dr Casale’s review of our investigation into the death of Sean Rigg, and the findings of the Home Affairs Select Committee’s inquiry into our work. All have recognised that we operate within limited resources and powers; but they also pointed out that we have not always used those resources and powers to best effect.
We know that when we get this work right, the impact is powerful, for the individuals involved, for improved police practice and public confidence. But we also know that where we do not get it right, this adds to families’ distress and to a lack of confidence in us and in the police service.
This review therefore provides us with an opportunity and a challenge. It is one that we are already responding to. We must ensure that we support, manage and train our staff to carry out this challenging and important role. As this progress report shows, we have already made changes to the way we work, and more are planned. We report on them under the three themes that emerged strongly from the review: independence, engagement and effectiveness – qualities that we must be able to demonstrate in our work and approach.
I am very grateful to all those who have given time to this review, or responded to the consultation, and for the assistance of the external reference group. I am especially grateful to bereaved families, for whom this has often meant a painful re-living of the worst time in their lives.
At the end of this year, we will produce a final report, acknowledging in more detail all that has been said to us and setting out our full programme of actions in response. I know that we will be judged, not by the content of any report that we produce, but by the actions we take as a result and the quality and approach of the work we do.
Dame Anne Owers Chair IPCC September 2013
Introduction From the Review
In 2007-08, the IPCC carried out a review (the Stocktake) into the handling of complaints against the police, which resulted in recommendations for change in our own practices and those of the police. In February 2012, we announced that we would carry out a similar exercise in relation to our investigations of deaths during or after police contact – not least because we were aware of some of the criticisms of the way those deaths had been investigated and the outcomes of the investigations.
All deaths and serious injuries during or following police contact must, by law, be referred to the IPCC. They include:
– road traffic fatalities involving the police
– fatal police shootings
– deaths in or following police custody
– apparent suicides following police custody
– other deaths where the actions or inaction of the police may have contributed to the death
We then need to decide whether these cases should be investigated, and if so, how they should be investigated. Sometimes, the death is unrelated to the contact with police: for example where there has been an apparent suicide or a death by natural causes which was clearly unconnected to an earlier interaction between the individual and the police. Other deaths will require investigation, and we must decide whether to carry out a wholly independent investigation ourselves; to manage or supervise an investigation carried out by a police force; or to require the local force to investigate the death itself. Where we consider there may be a connection between police contact and the death, we will investigate independently.
Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) places an obligation on the state not to take life, except in very limited and defined circumstances, and to take reasonable steps to protect life where there is a real and immediate risk. If there is an indication that a death may be the result of police action, or failure to act, Article 2 requires there to be an independent and effective investigation to determine the circumstances and causes of the death.1 Our work is an important part of the way the state meets that obligation, alongside the work of coroners and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). The obligations arising from Article 2 shape the way that we investigate deaths involving the police. As well as determining how and why a person died, and whether any individuals are at fault, our investigations should seek to ensure that similar deaths can be prevented, and should effectively engage bereaved families in the investigative process.
Therefore, when we conduct an independent investigation into a death, we have a duty to the families of those who have died; we need to retain the confidence of the wider public in the independence and effectiveness of our work; and we must help the police learn the right lessons from these tragic incidents. As such cases inevitably – and quite rightly – attract a great deal of attention, our handling of them shapes public perceptions of the police complaints process and of our own role in holding the police to account. We need to be sure that our investigations are effective and thorough, fully independent of police and other interests, and that we proactively and sensitively engage with the families of those who have died.