Your Thoughts: Police Brutality & Corruption

Your Thoughts: Police Brutality & Corruption

In recent news, it was reported that a federal jury found two Baltimore police officers guilty of corruption for robbing city residents. Their stealing of seized guns, cash and drugs for resale also corrupted many other cases.

Lawyer Monthly reached out to legal experts this week and below lists several responses to some of the subsequent questions:

What does the law say about police brutality? What does the law say on authority corruption and what are the criminal implications? What are your thoughts on the state of policing affairs in your country? How do you view the law and what changes would you like to see? Any further thoughts on this subject?

Robert Conway, Director of Criminal Defence, Vardags:

Up until 1984 the law said very little about police brutality or corruption. For much of the post-war period, there was consensus that the police were above such practices, or at least that these activities were done only with the public’s best interest at heart. The idea that there was a noble cause behind acts of corruption was strongly perpetuated.

It took two shocking cases of corruption that resulted in a miscarriage of justice – the Guildford 4 and the Birmingham 6 – to change this view. These cases highlighted the need for more rigorous police oversight and resulted in the 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act. This introduced a comprehensive set of rules to regulate the way the police conducted their activities. It was one of the most progressive pieces of legislation within our criminal justice system and for the first time put in place checks and balances to govern the extensive investigatory powers the police were granted.

The abuse of authority by public officials acting both within the UK and abroad are covered by several pieces of statute, including the Bribery Act 2010 and the Fraud Act 2006. The landmark Bribery Act introduced clarity to corruption laws that had been in place for over 100 years and established far wider-ranging powers for criminalising the abuse of power in foreign jurisdictions by both corporate institutions and public officials.

Chief Constable Simon Bailey has been very outspoken about the police force’s inability to properly safeguard young people against sexual predators. The alarming announcement of the police’s lack of resources in the face of escalating crime, in particular online crime, echoes similar pronouncements by senior police officers in recent years. The tone of resignation in Simon Bailey’s most recent warning is a clear indication that the situation is rapidly moving towards a crisis.

The greatest tragedy at the heart of the Worboys case is arguably the inability of the police to properly investigate – at times even take seriously – the complaints made by many victims in the years preceding his final apprehension.  In a recent action conducted by several of those victims against the Metropolitan Police, the Court of Appeal identified systematic failures and inadequacy of training and supervision in the conduct of police investigation. The judgment was another damning indictment upon the police and a further reminder of the emerging crisis of resources which has clearly contributed to those systematic failings.

Reduced police resources are also at the heart of their dismal track record in performing another crucial function – the disclosure of evidence to assist a defendant at trial. Historically, criminal trials were acted out between an individual bringing a complaint to court, on the one hand, and a defendant on the other. Each, through their own means, would compile their cases; the judgement would favour the most persuasive one. When individuals had similar resources, there was an equality of arms – a key component of a fair trial.

Modern policing and the shift towards state rather than individual prosecution destabilised the trial process. Hypothetically, the full weight of the state’s resources could now be brought to bear against the individual defendant. To maintain the equality of arms, the police had to be redefined as an impartial and objective investigative body; any evidence they found had to be made available to the defendant. PACE, other legislation such as the Criminal Procedure and Investigation Act 1996 (CPIA), and the codes of practice accompanying both pieces of statute were crucial in clarifying these new duties.

However, the recent spate of collapsed trials at the end of last year and continuing into the new year has been a clear signal that the police are failing in this most crucial of roles with very serious implications. We shouldn’t ignore the crisis of resources afflicting the police force.

Daniel Machover, Head of Civil Department, Hickman & Rose:

Police corruption involving firearms is less prevalent in the UK than in the USA, as are fatal police shootings.

Drug-related corruption, particularly in big city forces, is likely to be widespread albeit well-hidden.  Police brutality can be harder to hide. Deaths in custody or following contact with police are on the rise in the UK, despite the existence of independent investigations that are non-existent in most US states.

Limited accountability perpetuates the problem. Police are rarely charged with a criminal offence when someone dies at their hands. Following a death, the IOPC investigates, deciding whether to refer the case to the CPS. The CPS has long displayed reluctance to prosecute officers for murder or manslaughter, partly due to difficulties in securing convictions. Establishing causation, particularly in restraint related deaths, can be complex.

Disciplinary charges against officers involved in deaths only exceptionally result in meaningful sanctions. Officers being investigated by the IOPC are rarely suspended from duty. The IOPC often has to force the police to bring disciplinary proceedings against officers. It is doubtful that forces which must be directed to bring proceedings are capable of meaningfully holding their officers to account.

After years of inadequacy and serious criticism of its investigations, the IOPC has shown occasional signs of having teeth. However, IOPC investigations invariably take years. Often no charges will be brought against officers until after an inquest. In inquests, police who give false evidence rarely face perjury charges, with no convictions so far. The process remains profoundly unsatisfactory.

The Hillsborough inquests indicate the damage done by police over ups. The public interest in holding to account officers who kill, pervert the course of justice or commit misconduct in a public office could not be higher.

For those harmed by police corruption, remedies can seem out of reach. Those who suffer miscarriages of justice have two potential options. The Ministry of Justice’s statutory compensation scheme requires new facts that provide total exoneration. Even after the Court of Appeal quashes someone’s conviction, they need to convince the Secretary of State of their innocence.

The other option will be to sue the police for malicious prosecution. This requires proving that there was a lack of reasonable and probable cause for a prosecution and proving malice too. In many cases, only one of these elements can be proved, leaving individuals acquitted of false charges or who have their conviction quashed without any remedy.

We would also love to hear more of Your Thoughts on this, so feel free to comment below and tell us what you think!