Changes announced to make police accountability system more robust, along with a reform of IOPC governance structure and appointment of a new Director General.

Investigations into police officers suspected of committing offences in the line of duty will be sped up to provide swifter clarity to both officers and victims, as the government launches a new drive to boost confidence in the police accountability system. 

Following concerns raised by policing last year that officers were losing confidence to use their powers effectively, particularly when using force, the Home Office conducted a review into the frameworks in place that hold officers to account and is today setting out a range of proposals to improve the system.  

The government will amend the threshold for referring police officers for criminal prosecution, so that only cases that have a reasonable prospect of conviction should be referred – as is already the test for members of the public suspected of committing a crime.  

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) will also be given the ability to refer cases to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) earlier, once an investigation has finished rather than waiting for a final report to be drafted, allowing them to speed up the referral process and give officers and victims clarity sooner.  

To ensure that no cases slip through the net, the IOPC’s Victim’s Right to Review policy will also be put on a statutory footing, strengthening the ability for victims of police use of force to challenge when cases have not been referred to the CPS. 

Home Secretary James Cleverly said:  

Our police officers act bravely in the line of duty, and they should not fear that their actions, when lawful and taken in line with their training and guidance, could damage their careers, wellbeing and family life.  

It is vital for the public and our policing that officers are held to the highest of standards and a balance must be struck between making sure officers can do their jobs safely and confidently and holding them to account.  

That is why the changes we are setting out today, and further measures in the coming months, will ensure both our officers and the public have faith in the accountability system.

These measures, which will be brought forward as amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill, are the first part of the government’s work to improve the police accountability system. A White Paper in the coming months will propose further, fundamental changes for consultation, aimed at making the accountability system more efficient, including looking at pilots for time limits for IOPC investigations, alongside the tests and thresholds applied across police misconduct processes. 

The review, which did not consider any live investigations, was launched last year after concerns were raised by policing that officers were not fully confident to use their powers. 

A broad range of views were considered, including those of frontline officers, senior police leaders, representatives from the legal sector and ordinary citizens impacted by police use of force. Participants highlighted concerns with the length of time investigations and subsequent proceedings take, with some taking years and therefore undermining the confidence for all involved.  

The review comes alongside broader work to examine the effectiveness of the Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC) in holding police to account. Part of a wide-ranging review of all public bodies commissioned by the government, today also sees publication of the to an independent review of the IOPC, led by Dr Gillian Fairfield. 

Findings include that the governance structure of the IOPC is flawed and needs reform, and concerns that the number of referrals to the IOPC has risen more than threefold, whilst the number of independent investigations has fallen. The government broadly accepts the recommendations made in the report and will look at next steps to ensure these issues are addressed and the public can have full confidence that the IOPC will hold police to account effectively.  

Key to its governance is the Director General role, and today Rachel Watson has been appointed to the position following a robust open competition, conducted in accordance with the Governance Code on Public Appointments. Rachel Watson has been serving as Policing Director in the Home Office since 2019 and will be bringing her years of expertise and experience working with the sector to head up the independent watchdog.  

New IOPC Director General, Rachel Watson said: 

The IOPC’s role of overseeing the police complaints system and investigating serious allegations of misconduct is an absolutely vital one and it is an honour to lead the organisation. 

An independent and respected IOPC is essential to public confidence in policing. The independent review sets out where change is needed as well as the organisation’s many strengths including its professional, committed staff. I am determined to work with them to build on what is great about the organisation and ensure that it is in the best possible position to meet the needs of the future.  

This is a good moment to reset relationships and I am committed to working closely with IOPC colleagues, police forces and local communities to rebuild trust.

Published 21 March 2024