The urgent need for an Independant Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) in line with the British system
|Sri Lankan Police officers on duty – File Photo|
| by Nagananda Kodituwakku
( February 22, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) No doubt that right thinking people in this island nation are disgusted about the way the so-called ‘Governments run by the majority Sinhalese (not the British colonialists) mistreat the very people who bring them to power. It is unfortunate that Lankan politicos are allowed to shamelessly exploit the poor masses and use the politics as a money making business with no respect to the rule of law.
It is observed that this is very reason as to why the successive governments vehemently refuse to ratify various international treaties formulated by the international community to ensure good governance and to protect individual freedom. For example Sri Lanka continues to avoid adopting domestic laws to recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court of Justice and ratifying numerous international treaties meant for the recognition of public right to obtain information held by government (freedom of information), protection of whistleblowers who expose wrongdoing in the public bodies etc that would check the oppresive governments from violating the sovereignty of the people.
The International Criminal Court is a permanent tribunal to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes irrespective of their positions in the governments. Already several heads of states are being charged by the ICC for various abuses whilst holding the public office.
As of February 2012, 120 States have become state-parties to the Statute of the ICC. This include whole of South America, nearly all of Europe and roughly half of the countries in Africa, but successive governments of Sri Lanka to date have refused to ratify this treaty probably to protect the rogue politicos who are in fear of criminal law being set in motion against them.
Right for information possessed by the government is an accepted norm recognized by all leading democracies. The recognition of this right guarantees the access to data held by the State by public or any media to be received freely or at minimal cost. Any government which respects the rule of law considers that it’s the duty of the State to release such information to promote openness and this is the trend encompassing in all the leading democracies. However Sri Lankan politicians who are under duty to ensure good governance deny this right to the people, in fear of exposure of abuses and wrongdoings committed by them.
The recognition of the IPCC – the need of the hour
From the peoples’ point of view, the conduct and behavior of the Department of Police that has been compelled to serve the corrupt politico masters is grossly unacceptable. Therefore, the time is fitting for the people as of a right to demand urgent transformation of the attitude of the Police toward the rights of the people. This has become a priorty in the light of police excesses and extra-judicial killings that has been become a routine occurrence.
If a visitor to this country poses a question as to whether the people of this country have the right to excercise their democractic right to engage in peaceful campaigns against oppression, clearly the answer is ‘No’. The indescriminate actions by the Police have gone to such an extent that people have experienced brutality in police cells, in public places, at protest campaigns and sometimes in their own abodes. Further, there have been a number of policemen involved in causing death by dangerous driving, but the people should ask themselves that how many of those who were responsible for such deaths have been dealt with under the law.
It is a fact that even the few law-abiding policemen in service cannot perform their duties owing to undue pressure brought upon them, insulting the rule of law. It is very unfortunate that in Sri Lanka the law-defying politicians are never being held accountable for their serious abuses and offences committed against the people.
In this backdrop the people should agitate and demand for an indendent commission like the Independent Police Complaint Commission (ICCP) in action in the UK, to protect their rights and to oversee the conduct of Police. This will also help formulating a system for handling complaints made against policeman of all ranks concerning all serious complaints against them. This kind of establishment, should be entirely independent of the police, interest groups and political parties by law and its decisions should be absolutely free from government involvement.
Members to such a commission shall be by public appointments and there shall be no Commissioner appointed with any links whatsoever to the police department or any other Armed Services. And the Commissioners shall be accontable only to the Parliament and should be entitled to hold office for the full term and only to be removed by a resolution adopted in the Parliament.
People should demand the government to recognise the operation of such commissions as in other true democracies where they are empowered to manage or supervise the police investigations into any kind of complaints, and also with full powers to investigate the most serious cases such as deaths in police custody, shootings and fatal traffic incidents caused by police, independently by itself.
The IPCC should clearly set standards for policemen to improve the way the public complaints are handled and it should deal with all forms of credible appeals made by the public about the way their complaints are dealt with by the Police and the final out-come of their investigations. It is simply a right of the people to demand that such a body is given the task of increasing public confidence in the complaint system with transparent, proportionate, timely and absolutely fair investigation. The IPCC should also ‘call in’ any matter where there might be serious public concern.
Once a matter is referred, the IPCC should make a ‘mode of investigation’ decision to determine how it should be dealt with. This may be done by caseworkers or investigators recruited from young dynamic professionals like lawyers, specialized in the human rights field, who may submit a complete independent assessment to the IPCC.
By law the IPCC investigators should be designated to undertake any investigation with full powers and privileges that policemen are vested with, including power to arrest any policeman in relation to allegations of any criminal conduct.
The caseworkers should be given a specialized training in handling police complaints that are referred to the IPCC. They will record the details of the complaint and make an assessment of the case and recommend a method of investigation, which will then be passed to the Commissioners to sign off. They may also assess appeals from the public, concerning the outcome of police decisions regarding complaints.
The IPCC should take a lead role in developing a new policy for a complaint handling system and also methodologies to change the police attitude toward citizens including suspects of crimes and prisoners.
Some of the recent investigations carried out by the IPCC, UK and illustrated below show the importance of having an independent body to inquire into police abuses of all kinds. Readers may observe that in the Sri Lanka environment, these kinds of incidents would be minor matters that would not be even worthy of reporting. Yet the readers note that the IPCC, UK takes each and every police abuse into account no matter now insignificant they are, to protect the public interest. No doubt that all will agree that this the most effective way to maintain public confidence in the department of police in Sri Lanka.
1. Mark Duggan Case, Tottenham, North East London (August 2011)
The Metrpolitan Police attempts to arrest Mark Duggan. He was shot to death by police and the police claims that he fired at them first. However, the IPCC investigators establish otherwise, that the victim did not fire a single shot at police before being killed by police.
2. Police shooting at Stanstead Road, London (February 2012)
A young man gets critically injured after a police shooting. The IPCC Commissioner Mike Franklin decides to investigate the incident as the man was shot after contact with Police. The IPCC has deployed its ‘on-call team’ to investigate the incident independently to ascertain whether there was foulplay by police.
3. The death at Gatwick Airport’s train station (February 2012)
The Met police claims that they used a taser gun to neutralise a man who was trying to cut himself with a bottle. The man dies and the police claim that it was an act of suicide. However, the IPCC has commenced investigations to determine whether the death occured as a result of the police taser gun assault or whether it was simply an act of suicide.
4. The death at Wexham Park Hospital (December 2011)
Thames Valley police responds to a call from the hospital to assist the hospital staff to restrain a patient. The patient dies. The IPCC takes over the ivestigations to determine the exact cause of death since the patient died after contact with police.
5. Gwent Police conduct on a disciplinary case against a constable (Dec 2011)
A policeman on duty is caught after having sex with a wife of a complainant. The police let the constable escape with a ‘warning’. The complainant reports the matter to the IPCC which launches an independent inquiry into the incident and dismisses the policeman. The IPCC Commissioner for Wales states as follows. “I am concerned at how ‘Gwent police dealt with a serious complaint, as this could potentially undermine public confidence in police”.