IPCC ‘overstepped the mark’

Posted: 13th September 2013

In an important decision that helps to define the proper ambit of powers exercised by public investigatory bodies, the High Court has ruled that the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) strayed well beyond its lawful authority when it found that a traffic officer who sprayed a motorist with CS gas, handcuffed him and struck him with his baton was guilty of an assault.

PoliceThe constable had stopped the motorist for alleged speeding. Although exactly what subsequently happened was hotly disputed, an altercation ensued which resulted in the motorist’s arrest. His mother complained to the IPCC which found that the arrest and the officer’s use of force had been unlawful. It went on to find on the balance of probabilities that what the officer did had amounted to an assault. However, the Crown Prosecution Service later decided that the arrest had been lawful and that there was not enough evidence to prosecute the officer.

Upholding an appeal against the IPCC's report brought by the Chief Constable of the West Yorkshire Police, the Court accepted that the IPCC had reached 'unlawful and impermissible conclusions'. Whilst accepting that the IPCC was under a duty to rigorously investigate the complaint, the Court found that it had 'leapt to the daring conclusion' that the officer had acted unlawfully.

That conclusion was, the Court ruled, ‘comprehensively in excess’ of the powers granted to the IPCC by Parliament and ‘over-stepped the lawful mark by some margin’. In adopting ‘the language of determination rather than recommendation’, the IPCC had purported to make findings of a kind that it had no power to make. In those circumstances, the report could not stand.

However, in recognising the considerable importance of the case to the police and the IPCC, and the need for an 'authoritative statement' on the extent of the body’s investigatory powers, the Court granted the IPCC permission to challenge its decision in the Court of Appeal.