Matthew Holdcroft and Georgina Wolfe act for the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire in R(Chief Constable of West Yorkshire) v IPCC [2014] EWCA Civ 1367

On 16.6.11 Mrs Sutcliffe complained, on her son’s behalf, to the IPCC about an altercation that followed a traffic stop and resulted in his arrest. She alleged that her son had been assaulted and unlawfully arrested. On 19.3.12 the IPCC issued their final report concluding that the complaint was upheld and that there was a case to answer in respect of an alleged ‘breach of the standards of professional behaviour.’  The report also made clear the investigators’ view that Mr Sutcliffe’s arrest was unlawful. The Chief Constable issued judicial review proceedings to quash the report. These proceedings succeeded at first instance but the IPCC appealed.

Sir Colin Rimer, giving the only judgment, was critical of both the length and content of the statutory guidance provided by the IPCC and the performance of two senior IPCC investigators – saying that they misunderstood their task and that there may well be a need for further training. The Court stated that the report reflected a “comprehensive lack of understanding by the investigators as to the difference between (a) an evaluation of the evidence for the purpose of the making a final decision on the merits of an allegation of misconduct or gross misconduct by the officer who is the subject of the complaint, and (b) an evaluation of the evidence for the purpose of deciding whether there is a case against such officer that calls for an answer”.

The Court emphasised that investigators should not purport to make findings in a case as to the lawfulness or reasonableness of an action – they should strictly confine themselves as to whether or not there was a case to answer. To go any further would be ‘potentially prejudicial to the fairness of the proceedings’ before either a misconduct panel or court and was ‘obviously also unfair to the police officer whose conduct was impugned. The Court said that they simply ‘did not understand’ the IPCC’s submissions that the report did not contain findings on the substantive issues i.e. to the lawfulness of the officer’s actions. The Court was of the view that the Report could not have made the purported findings clearer.

The judgment has important implications for all investigation reports in the misconduct regime but for the IPCC in particular. It makes it clear that the statutory guidance should be revisited and revised and that in the future the conclusion that a complaint is to be upheld simply because the investigator finds that there is a case to answer is one that should be avoided.

The full text of the judgment can be found here