HC Deb 25 January 1982 vol 16 cc612-3
39. Mr. Meacher

asked the Attorney-General in what percentage of complaints made against the police in the last full year, alleging assault, the Director of Public Prosecution has initiated prosecution of the policeman concerned.

The Attorney-General

In 1979, which is the last full year for which results are available, the percentage of cases for assault prosecuted was 2.06 per cent.

Mr. Meacher

It is scarcely surprising to learn that the Director of Public Prosecutions prosecutes in only about 2 per cent. of the police assault cases referred to him when cases occur such as the one revealed in yesterday's edition of The Observer. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that a Nigerian student, who had done nothing wrong whatever, was so badly kicked in the groin by the police that he had to have a testicle removed, yet the DPP accepted without further inquiry that the guilty police officers could not be traced? Surely such cases make a farce of the DPP's role under current procedure?

The Attorney-General

Of the cases that are reported to the Director of Public Prosecutions as a result of complaints of assault made against the police, many are for minor technical assaults, such as pushing, when no injury has followed. The cases that are the basis of my answer may be those in which there have been a number of complaints involving one police officer, or a number of police officers that are treated as one case. The figure of 2.06 per cent. relates to cases and not individual police officers. I have this morning spoken to the Director of Public Prosecutions about the article that appeared in The Observer. I have asked him to look into it and to report to me.

Mr. Chapman

Some cases may not be prosecuted because there is a lack of evidence or independent witnesses. Will my right hon. and learned Friend indicate the proportion of alleged assaults by the police that are not proceded with because it is found that the allegations are totally unfounded or even maliciously brought?

The Attorney-General

I do not know the proportion, but in view of the percentage figure I have given, there must be a number of such cases. The conviction rate for assaults by police officers in such cases is considerably lower than the average conviction rate. That may indicate that the Director of Public Prosecutions has prosecuted too many rather than too few.

Mr. Archer

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that of all cases under section 49 of the Police Act 1964, those referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions as disclosing possible criminal offences are usually the most serious? If they are, and if they do not result in prosecutions, they are not dealt with under police disciplinary regulations. Surely this means that the most serious allegations are frequently the ones that result in no action being taken.

The Attorney-General

I wish that that were so. Unfortunately, discretion lies with the chief officer of police who, unless he is satisfied that there is no prima facie case, has to report the issue to the Director of Public Prosecutions. It is our experience that the chief constable, anxious to avoid any criticism that he is protecting his own men, reports many cases in which there is not even the start of a case against the officer concerned. That is why the figures of reported cases are high and why the figures of those that lead to prosecution are so low.