In the light of the Royal Commission's comments critically assess the effectiveness of the ways in which the police are held accountable in the exercise of their legal powers. Before any discussion of effectiveness can begin an outline of the organisation of the police force and to whom they are accountable is necessary. Then we shall move on to look at the Police Complaints Authority and its procedures, making note of their effectiveness as they are discussed. From this final conclusions will be drawn. There are two police forces operating within Great Britain.
Firstly there is the standard police force for England and Wales, which comprises of 43 forces in total divided by geographical area, and there is also the Metropolitan police force that concerns itself with policing in London. The reason for separating these two are they have a slightly different structure and so should be considered both individually and in comparison to one another. The Commissioner is the most senior rank within MPD forces, followed by the Deputy Commissioner, then Assistant Commissioner, Deputy Assistant Commissioner and one or two commanders. Non MPD forces have Chief Constable and an Assistant Chief Constable.
A key issues when considering police organisation is who they are answerable or accountable to. One of the notable features of British policing is its independence from political control, this of course has its downsides and such autonomy and distance from central government has been criticised1. The Police Act 1964 set up the basics of the police force as it operates today. The key feature of the British system of governance of the police is the tripartite structure of police accountability made up of local police authority, Government Home Secretary and police force chief constable.
This system in fact reflects the traditional British constitutional doctrine of separation of power2. The police and Magistrates Act of 1994 made a few changes to the original design of the tripartite but the structure as explained above still exists. The police authority is charged with maintaining an efficient and effective police force for its area. It is responsible for policy but cannot make operational policing decisions. Police authority members comprise nine locally elected councillors, five 'independent' members appointed from a short list prepared by the Home Secretary, and three magistrates.
There are very few requirements in statute with which the chief constable must comply. He/she has 'direction and control' of the force. He or she has operational independence and has flexibility in how the local police service is delivered. However, the chief officer must operate with regard to the policing plan, which is owned by the police authority 3. Police authorities are the means of local accountability for police forces throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Their consultations with local people, which they are statutorily required to perform, provide an important and transparent link between the police and the public they serve. Following these consultations the police authority duty is to prepare a policing plan, setting out local priorities and targets, and to hold the chief constable to account for delivering an effective and efficient service. Police authorities also appoint chief officers and now have a more active role within police discipline procedures.
And since April 1999 police authorities have a duty to deliver continuous improvement by conducting best value reviews of all aspects of policing performance and activity. The most important player in the structure has become the Home Secretary. The Government Minister can require a police authority to dismiss the chief constable, directly or indirectly controls about three quarters of police finance, and can use the Royal prerogative (residual Crown power now vested in the Government) to protect the Queen's Peace to override the wishes of the local police authority and elected representatives.
The Home Secretary is answerable to Parliament and the public for the provision of an effective and efficient police service. He has a strategic role in setting ministerial priorities for the service and performance targets for those priorities4 The Metropolitan Police Force does not have a police authority and the Commissioner is directly answerable to the Home Secretary5. Although the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Kate Hoey, stated 'The House will know that we have plans to bring the arrangements in London closer to those that apply in the rest of England and Wales' on the 22nd June 19996.
Indicating here her confidence in procedures that existed outside of the Metropolitan Police department. She went on to say 'The police authority also provides local democratic accountability through its members, the majority of whom are local councillors'. In regard to metropolitan police she also gave a small speech of confidence, stating 'However, the hon. Gentleman raised, among other questions, the issue of whether the Metropolitan police have operated objectively and fairly in deciding whether to investigate certain allegations, and in the conduct of the subsequent investigations….
I must emphasise that the police retain, as they must, independence in such operational decisions. That is necessary in the interests of the impartial maintenance of the law. However, it is vital that the police should be properly accountable for their operational decisions and investigations. They are, of course, answerable to the courts, but there are also special arrangements in place for making complaints against the police and for the investigation of such complaints'7.