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Police (Complaints)

Volume 22: debated on Monday 26 April 1982

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asked the Attorney-General what is the average prosecution rate by the Director of Public Prosecutions with regard to complaints against the police referred to him.

The average prosecution rate over the years 1975 to 1979 was 14 per cent.

Why is it that, according to an answer given to me by the Attorney-General on 4 March, the prosecution rate against police officers is 23 per cent. for road traffic offences and 14 per cent. for theft, but less than 2 per cent. in cases of assault? If the reason is lack of independent witnesses, why is the prosecution rate seven times higher—15 per cent.—for sex offences?

I think that the main reason—not the only reason—is the peculiarity of the right of private prosecution for common assault. Most common assault cases are initiated by the person who has been assaulted. In the minor cases, particularly where there has been a complaint that a police officer pushed a member of the public, the Director of Public Prosecutions usually writes to the complainant advising him of his ordinary remedies.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that many of the complaints against the police are mischievous and, when investigated, found to have no basis in fact?

Inevitably, that is so. An allegation of assault is easily made, even when it is totally unjustified.

Does the Attorney-General agree that the so-called double jeopardy rule in section 49 investigations has no statutory basis? Does he further agree that if the Director of Public Prosecutions decides not to prosecute a case, it cannot meaningfully be said that the officer concerned has never been in jeopardy, because there is no real reason why, if appropriate, he should not be proceeded against for a disciplinary offence?

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. This matter, which I know caused him anxiety when he was in the Department, remains an anxiety for me. I should welcome any chance of a discussion with him on how we might improve the situation.

Does the Attorney-General agree that the position is unsatisfactory, particularly in the light of a recent case where, six years after the event, a citizen of this country has been given record substantial damages against the police? Does he further agree that in such a case it is difficult to initiate a prosecution, although the papers have been sent to the DPP, because, six years after the event, no one can remember exactly what happened? Is there no way of initiating prosecutions earlier?

When I read about that case, which I am sure must have horrified every hon. Member as much as it did me, I instigated inquiries. Much to my surprise, I found that no complaint had been made to the police. Therefore, no section 49 report was made under the Police Act for the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider. His first knowledge of the case was the same as ours—reading of it in the newspapers. That delay was not the fault of the Director of Public Prosecutions or anyone else. Principally, for a reason that I do not understand, it was the fact that no complaint was made in the first place.