HC Deb 20 May 1976 vol 911 cc1765-80

'(1) Where the report of an investigation into a complaint is sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions in pursuance of section 49(3) of the Police Act 1964 (cases where criminal offences may have been committed) section 2(1) above shall not apply to the complaint until the question of criminal proceedings has been dealt with by the Director.

(2) Where it appears to the Police Complaints Board that any information furnished to them under section 2 or 3 above —

  1. (a) may be relevant to the question of criminal proceedings against the member of a police force against whom the complaint in question is made; but
  2. (b) has not been furnished to the Director of Public Prosecutions,
the Board may request the chief officer of that force to transmit that information to the Director; and the chief officer shall transmit that information accordingly unless it has already been furnished to the Director or the chief officer is satisfied that it cannot be relevant as aforesaid.

(3) A chief officer of police who is requested under subsection (2) above to transmit any information to the Director shall notify the Board whether he has transmitted it and, if not, his reasons for not doing so.'. —[Mr. Arthur Davidson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With the new Clause we are to take Amendment (a) to the clause, at end of subsection (1), insert and he has decided not to initiate a prosecution'. Government Amendments Nos. 8 and 18; and Amendment No. 19, in Clause 2, page 2, line 35, at end insert 'and he has decided not to initiate a prosecution'.

Mr. Davidson

These amendments and the new clause deal with complaints by members of the public against police officers which involve allegations of possible criminal offences.

By Section 49 of the Police Act 1964, a chief officer is required to forward the report of an investigation into a complaint to the Director of Public Prosecutions, unless he is satisfied that no criminal offence has been committed. The new procedure introduced by the Bill does not affect this requirement and, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made clear on Second Reading and time and again in Committee, the Director's decision on whether or not criminal proceedings should be brought is not open to review by the board, which is concerned only with the question of disciplinary proceedings.

Lines 30 to 35 of Clause 2 were intended to make it clear that no report would be sent to the board under the provisions of Clause 2(1) until after the Director had given his decision on the question of criminal proceedings. However, it became evident during the discussions in Committee that there was a good deal of confusion about the precise relation between reference to the Director and reference to the board.

We have therefore sought to make matters clearer by removing the provision in lines 30 to 35 of Clause 2 into a separate subsection, subsection (1) of the new clause. Government Amendment No. 8 paves the way for this part of the new clause by making it clear that the reference of a case to the board under Clause 2(1) is subject not only to subsection (2) of Clause 2 but also to sub-section (1) of the new clause. There is no difference in substance in that subsection. It remains the case that when a chief officer receives the report of an investigation into a complaint under Section 49, he must first consider whether there is any possibility of a criminal offence being involved. Unless he is satisfied that there is not, he must send the report to the Director under Section 49(3).

Only after the Director has completed his consideration of such a case and reached a decision on the bringing of proceedings does the chief officer turn his attention to the question of reference to the board under Clause 2. The fact that a case has been considered by the Director does not prevent the case also being submitted to the board, subject to the provisions of Clause 2 or of Regulations under Clause 5 concerning cases which are not sent to the board.

At the same time, we have tried to meet a point which was made in Committee by a number of hon. Members, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann). This was that in the board's consideration of the disciplinary aspects of a case —and bearing in mind especially its power under Clause 3(1) to call for additional information —fresh evidence might come to light which was relevant to the question whether a criminal offence had been committed and which had not been considered by the Director.

It was our view that, as a matter of common sense, the board would take appropriate steps if such information came to light in the course of its exercise of its functions under the Bill.

Nevertheless, we recognised hon. Members' anxieties on the point and we have considered how we could meet these without involving the board in criminal matters which are not its province or trespassing on the role of the Director of Public Prosecutions. It seemed to us that the best course would be to introduce into the Bill a provision on the lines of subsections (2) and (3) of the new clause.

The effect of this will be that, if information furnished to the board under Clauses 2 or 3 of the Bill appears to be relevant to the question of criminal proceedings against the officer concerned but not to have been already referred to the Director, it will be able to request the chief officer of the force to refer the information to the Director. The chief officer would be required to comply unless the information had in fact already been sent to the Director or he was satisfied that it could not be relevant to the question of criminal proceedings. He would then be required to inform the board either that he had sent the information to the Director or, if he did not do so, why he had not.

This provision has the advantage, first, of maintaining the position of the chief officer as the channel of communication with the Director and, secondly, of not breaching the important principle that the Director's decision is not open to review. On the other hand, it will also help to ensure that any information which ought to be in the Director's hands does in fact reach him.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden is satisfied that this provision in statutory form meets the anxieties he expressed in Committee.

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of the new clause. There was some confusion on this issue in Committee, and if I am still a little confused it may be because I lack the hon. Gentleman's legal training.

The implication of the new clause seems to be that the board will have available to it information that was not already in the possession of the DPP or the police. I am not clear how this situation could arise. Surely the police would have had the fullest possible details when conducting an investigation, and if the DPP was dissatisfied he could seek more information before reaching a decision. It is not clear how the board could find itself better informed. Therefore, I am not clear about the purpose of the latter part of the new clause.

The new clause also seems to introduce the possibility that the Director will have the board looking over his shoulder. Despite what the Minister has said, it seems that the board will have the power to tell the DPP to do his job again. Difficulties could be caused if he was able to be semi-publicly overruled in this way.

The other aspect of the new clause is highlighted by our amendment, which attempts to clarify the situation in which the new clause would operate. We assume that it would do so when the DPP had decided not to initiate a prosecution. If he had decided to prosecute, the process we are discussing would presumably go ahead anyway and the new clause would not apply.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

I welcome the provisions of the new clause as far as they go. They help to meet the concerns I repeatedly expressed in Committee.

My particular concern was that there might be circumstances in which further information in relation to disciplinary charges became available to the board and might indicate a glaring gap in the evidence which had gone to the DPP. For instance, the board might see that a particular witness had not been interviewed and, in considering whether disciplinary proceedings should be brought, it might suggest that the witness should be interviewed. His statement might put a different light on whether the officer concerned should face criminal charges. I was concerned with serious cases of allegations of criminal offences. In such cases the board might become aware of a lacuna in the evidence which needed to be filled.

My concern with the new clause is whether it goes wide enough, to ensure that, in a case in which there might be grounds for anxiety, the case would reach the board in sufficient time or that the board would be sufficiently alerted to matters which might need further investigation. The new clause makes clear, as did my hon. Friend in Committee, that if fresh evidence became available it would be possible for the matter to be referred back to the DPP. That was my major concern.

Hon. Members on all sides who have had experience of cases involving complaints against the police will be aware that one of the most frequent reasons for dissatisfaction is that when a complaint was investigated some people were not asked to give evidence, and that if they had been interviewed the case would have been viewed in a different light.

The new clause makes clear that the matter could be referred back to the DPP, but it does not make clear the circumstances in which a chief officer could say that he was not satisfied that evidence was relevant and would therefore not refer it back to the DPP. There is no such power for chief officers to say that they are not prepared to find fresh evidence. They are given an express duty to supply any further information requested by the board.

I hope that the Minister will indicate the sort of circumstances in which he envisages that chief officers might be able to resist indefinitely pressure from the board that the statement of Joe Bloggs or whoever it might be should be referred to the DPP for him to consider whether in the light of the fresh evidence, criminal proceedings should be brought.

In another part of the Bill the board is given power to overrule the decision of a chief officer that disciplinary proceedings should not be brought. The board should at least have power to override a chief officer who was reluctant to refer a matter back to the Director of Public Prosecutions. If the Board thinks that evidence is material, it is inappropriate for the chief officer to be able to say that it is of no relevance and that he will not refer it back. Subject to that, I welcome the clause and the amendments associated with it.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

We are not clear where these new subsections are to be inserted in the Bill. Therefore, the references in them to section 2 or 3 above are confusing. The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) rightly says that the board will be able to obtain information furnished to it under section 2 or 3 above", but what will be above the clause? This is not just a technical point. It relates to the whole question of the information that further action should be taken by the on which the board will make a judgment chief officer. The reference is in subsection (2) of the clause, which states: that any information furnished to them under section 2 or 3 above". I should like to know to which section 2 or 3 above that refers.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

The hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) asked me to explain in what circumstances the board might come into possession of fresh evidence. He is correct in assuming that in the overwhelming number of cases the police would have all the available evidence. The police will send that evidence to the Director of Public Prosecutions, and he will consider the case in the light of that evidence. If the Director decides that he wants more evidence or that another witness should be interviewed, he can ask the chief officer of police to interview that witness and to send to him any other evidence which he considers necessary.

The circumstances in which fresh evidence would be sent by the chief officer to the Director are very limited. It might be evidence received following further inquiries instituted by the board under Clause 3(1). Fresh information might be sent by a member of the public direct to the board which the board considered might be relevant.

Mr. Alison

Subsection (2) states Where it appears to the Police Complaints Board that any information furnished to them under section 2 or 3 above". That is a precise, narrow channel of information. Information from the general public is not admissible under the two following paragraphs.

Mr. Davidson

The hon. Gentleman is right. Information from the general public would be sent to the chief officer of police.

Following the board's scrutiny of the papers, it might be decided that something relevant had not been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions. These are very narrow circumstances. None the less, my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) was right to raise the matter, and I hope that I have covered the point.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

Will my hon. Friend consider widening this provision slightly to include information in the hands of the board as a consequence of investigation into other cases? Information from a completely separate case might be already in the possession of the board, and that information might be material for the Director of Public Prosecutions to take into consideration. If the board already had in its possession strong evidence to suggest that a police officer had accepted bribes or been guilty of some other offence, it would be material for that information to be supplied to the Director and, therefore, it should be passed to him.

I suggest that it might be preferable to leave out the words under section 2 or 3 above". Whether the information is supplied under Section 2 or 3 in relation to that case, in connection with another case or direct by members of the public—

Mr. Speaker

Is the hon. Gentleman intervening?

Mr. Douglas-Mann

I am, Mr. Speaker. I am waiting for my hon. Friend to finish his conversation.

Mr. Speaker

The Minister is addressing the House. He cannot sit down for ever.

Mr. Davidson

I think that my hon. Friend was doing me a favour to allow me to get more information. I was listening with care and wondering when his intervention would finish.

I have already dealt with the point. If the board has information, it will go to the police and the police will pass it on in the normal way to the Director if it is evidence of a criminal offence.

The hon. Member for Chislehurst raised another point, which I have forgotten.

Mr. Sims

It was the circumstances in which the clause would operate. Will it operate simply when the Director has decided not to initiate a prosecution, or is it a general clause which applies whether he has or has not so decided?

Mr. Davidson

Whether the Director has decided to prosecute or not to prosecute, the cases will still go to the board. That is inherent in the clause. The board will examine all cases, even cases in which the Director of Public Prosecu- tions has decided to prosecute. We dealt with that matter at some length in Committee, and the amendment merely clears up the point.

Mr. Alison

I still cannot understand the rationality of moving a new clause at the beginning of today's proceedings, as the Government did, providing that when a criminal charge is made against a police officer and he is either acquitted or found guilty he cannot be susceptible to a disciplinary charge. In what circumstances can it be relevant or necessary to send to the Police Complaints Board a complaint which has resulted in a criminal charge producing conviction or acquittal? There is nothing that the board can do about it.

The Government have ruled that the board may not prefer a disciplinary charge. It has been written into the Bill that no disciplinary charge can arise. The board is there to see that disciplinary charges are preferred when for some reason the chief officer has not done so. The Government have ruled out the admissibility of disciplinary charges, so there can be no conceivable rationale or purpose in sending a complaint to the board, because there is nothing that the board can do. It can only send it back and say that it is not relevant for consideration. The purpose of the amendment is to clarify this matter. It does not make sense to send cases to the board over which the board by definition has no jurisdiction.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

The case will go from the Director to the chief officer of police, who will send it to the board.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths


6.30 p.m.

Mr. Davidson

Because it is important that the board should examine the case. There are circumstances in which the chief officer of police —[Interruplion]. It is not a laughing matter. We considered this at great length in Committee and had a series of debates on the subject.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

. It is so illogical.

Mr. Davidson

Since the hon. Gentleman was not a member of the Committee, perhaps he might like to refer to what was said in those debates. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his view. It is important that the board should see all cases. It might well be that the chief officer of police had decided to bring some sort of disciplinary charges, not based on the same evidence, and it is important that the board should have cognisance of that. There are circumstances in which disciplinary charges could be brought on the same evidence as a criminal charge but there could be other separate disciplinary charges. We have debated this over and over again. Those charges do rot arise out of the same evidence upon which the criminal charge was based, but they are disciplinary charges which the chief officer of police, in his discretion, has decided to bring. It is those charges which the board would want to see and has a right to see. That is the answer to the question.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Perhaps I can help by saying that this is what we described in Committee as the "Regents Park case" where a policeman gets himself into difficulty with someone while he is in Regents Park. The matter is examined, and when it goes to discipline the chief officer discovers that the policeman should not have been in Regents Park at all but should have been in Islington. The charge which lies against him is that he was failing in his duty because he was not in the place where he should have been.

The Minister is not helping at all. In effect, what he is saying is that where the police bring disciplinary charges against a police officer because of some matter which has arisen, such as in the Regents Park case, it should have something to do with the board. In principle, it ought to have nothing to do with the board because there is no complaint which lies against that police officer in respect of the matter on which he is being disciplined. The complaint arises on an entirely different matter which has been disposed of. To bring in the board on the purely internal discipline of the service is wholly wrong.

Mr. Alison rose—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is disorderly to have two interventions at the same time. We must have the first one answered.

Mr. Davidson

I appear to be subject to very long interventions; perhaps there is something about my personality. I do not know what else it can be which causes people to speak at great length when they are intervening.

The board cannot interfere with the decision of the chief officer; that is absolutely true. The question of discipline and punishment is for him. It is, however, important that the board should have a general oversight of cases, including that sort of case.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

indicated dissent.

Mr. Davidson

The hon. Gentleman does not agree with me. I am sorry; I cannot take the matter any further than that. I think I have dealt with most of the points which have been raised, and I believe that the new clause and amendments go some way to meeting the points raised in Committee.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths rose—

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I was about to speak on this matter,Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I already have the hon. Gentleman's name down as having spoken. I must have written his name down by mistake.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I was out of the Chamber at the beginning of the debate, Mr. Speaker. Possibly my intervention may have given you the impression that I made a speech, but I hope my speech now will make it perfectly plain that my intervention was no more than a short aside.

The point I wish to make to the hon. Gentleman, which I hope he will take seriously, is that I think he has got it wrong and that he ought to consult his officials to make sure that he gets it right. The Long Title states the intention of the Bill: To establish a Police Complaints Board with functions relating to complaints from the public against members of police forces". That is the heart of the matter. It is only where the public make complaints that the Bill will operate. Of course, the very case we are dealing with is precisely one in which the public have made no complaint at all. It is simply a matter in which, as a result of some infringement of the law or of discipline, a policeman's superiors discover that he has acted in a way which is an offence against the internal management of the service.

The public have no means of knowing whether a police officer ought to be in Regents Park or Islington or anywhere else. How can they? The public have no knowledge of how the police deploy their men. Therefore, if in the course of investigation of an offence it appears that there is some irregulatrity in the way in which a constable has carried out his professional duty, that is not a matter on which the public can make a complaint because the public, by definition, can have no knowledge of that.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

Following the analogy of the Regents Park case, if a member of the public complains that a police officer in Regents Park was abusive to him or that the officer was drunk in charge of a car, the Director of Public Prosecutions would have to consider whether criminal proceedings should be brought against that policeman for driving while unfit through drink. The question of complaint would still have to be considered by the board. However, if Amendment (a) is accepted that will not be possible. I think that the hon. Gentleman is speaking beside the point, which is unusual for him.

Mr. Griffiths

I am obliged, as always, to the hon. Gentleman. He and the Parliamentary Secretary, who, I suspect, has now obtained advice from the Box, will recognise what we are dealing with here. If it is a case which concerns a police officer who is charged with assault or drunkenness, and there is a complaint by a member of the public, it is entirely proper that the Bill should dealt with it. But if, in the course of the disciplinary procedures which are followed, it is discovered that a police officer committed some purely internal offence —let us say his personal radio set was out of order or he was not carrying his pocket book —these could be matters for discipline which arose from the investigation of the initial case.

Mr. Douglas-Mann rose—

Mr. Griffiths

What the Parliamentary Secretary said in his speech was that it would be a matter for the board. If he consults his officials, I think he will see that he is entirely mistaken on this point. The Bill does not cover the internal management of the police service.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

Perhaps I can disappoint the hon. Gentleman and also please him, which is a happy thing to do. He is wrong in thinking that the advice I have received from my officials implies that the advice I gave the House was wrong. Possibly the hon. Gentleman misunderstood me. Clearly, what we are describing as the Regents Park case —in which a police officer was disciplined for not wearing his helmet or something, and which was not the subject of complaint by the public —has nothing to do with the board at all. The hon. Gentleman is quite right. I certainly did not intend to give that impression and I did not think I had done so.

Mr. Burden

You did.

Mr. Davidson

I am sorry; I did not think I had.

But there is still a category of case, in which, for instance, a complaint—

Mr. Speaker

Order. May I remind the Minister that this is not Committee stage, when interventions can come at any time? This is Report stage. When an hon. Member is addressing the House, if anyone intervenes —Minister or Back Bencher —his intervention should be of reasonable duration. Otherwise, reasonable progress is impossible.

Mr. Davidson

I agree, Mr. Speaker. I thought that I was winding up.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I had in fact completed my remarks, Mr. Speaker, you will be pleased to know.

Mr. Speaker

I was misled by the hon. Member's earlier remarks: I apologise.

Mr. Davidson

So, Mr. Speaker, do I.

There might be a complaint by a member of the public under Section 49 that he had been mistreated or assaulted by a constable. At the same time, he might complain that the officer had been abusive in the way he had spoken. So there would be two complaints. One is obviously a criminal matter, and the DPP might decide, for evidential reasons, not to prosecute. But that would not in itself be a bar to disciplinary proceedings for the use of abusive language. It might arise from the same incident or it might be separated by minutes, but it is one that the board should see. It is a question of a complaint by the public, it is a question of disciplinary proceedings, and the fact that the major offence of assault had not been the subject of proceedings should not debar the board from seeing what had been the subject of disciplinary proceedings.

It is that sort of matter, which is slightly apart from the Regents Park type of offence, that I was trying to describe. Perhaps hon. Members will now understand it a little better.

Mr. Alison

I should like to speak particularly to our Amendment (a) —

Mr. Speaker

Order. Has not the hon. Member addressed the House already?

Mr. Alison

Only by way of intervention and query, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

There is something wrong. When I called the hon. Member, I called him to make a speech. If he says that it was an intervention, I shall have to keep a closer eye on interventions.

Mr. Alison

I shall be very brief.

I want to start by paying tribute to the Parliamentary Secretary. The reason why we keep on speaking is that he is so helpful and constructive that he invites us to probe these matters to get to the truth.

I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would confirm that, as things stand, there are at least three types of case —I hope we shall be able to show that there are four —which do not go to the Police Complaints Board. The first is the case of a complaint which is withdrawn, the second is one which proves to concern internal disciplinary matters and is not directly relevant to a complaint by a member of the public and the third is a case in which the charges are admitted and disciplinary charges are preferred —although the Government propose to change that later in the Bill.

6.45 p.m.

The fourth type of case, on which I continue to have misgivings is that in which the DPP has prosecuted a particular complainant. It is no use the Parliamentary Secretary saying that there are some bits of complaints which may prove susceptible to disciplinary charges after the criminal case has been dealt with. When the new clause was tabled specifying certain kinds of criminal case in which, following an acquittal, there could be no disciplinary charges, there must have been some clear end in view.

It is that isolated sort of case, which the new clause defines as being not susceptible to a disciplinary charge, which I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to confirm cannot itself be referred to the board. It would be nonsense for such a case to be sent to the board. There must have been some intention behind New Clause I, which we have now included in the Bill. We should like confirmation that that type of case, in which disciplinary charges can no longer be preferred, cannot be sent to the board. There would be no purpose, because the board could do nothing about it. If the hon. Gentleman says that it is not necessary for such cases to go to the board, we shall naturally not press our amendment.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

Forward to