High Court rules Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) was wrong to conclude officer committed alleged assault and unlawful arrest.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) exceeded its authority when it declared that an officer had carried out an unlawful arrest and assaulted a detainee, the High Court has ruled.
The police watchdog’s investigation report into PC Lee Armstrong leapt “to the conclusion” that he had assaulted the man at the roadside in March 2011.
Instead of suggesting the West Yorkshire officer had a case to answer – and offering opinion to the force and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) – the IPCC released findings “it had no power to make”, Judge Jeremy Richardson QC said.
He ruled the investigation report was unlawful and quashed it before ordering it to be rewritten in appropriate language.
The IPCC has been granted right to appeal against the decision.
The judgement is seen as crucial as it is the first time a court has considered what should actually be allowed in an IPCC investigation report.
The case was brought by the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police, Mark Gilmore, who had serious concerns that the watchdog had reached “unlawful and impermissible conclusions” about the officer.
Judge Jeremy Richardson said: “Quite apart from anything else the report purports to find (not suggest) unlawful conduct – both criminal and civil.
“That far exceeds the lawful ambit of such reports.
“The report was not merely evaluating evidence to enable a decision maker to make a decision – it was purporting to make findings of a kind it had no power to make.”
The force declined to take disciplinary action against PC Armstrong, who is still serving, following an altercation with Lee Sutcliffe, who had been stopped for alleged speeding in Leeds.
The altercation ended in Mr Sutcliffe’s arrest for a public order offence and PC Armstrong used his CS Spray and baton during the incident before handcuffing him. Mr Sutcliffe sustained a permanent injury to his left thumb but both parties gave differing accounts of the incident.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided not to press charges against the officer in July 2012, despite the IPCC report, and said the arrest had been lawful.
Judge Richardson said the IPCC had overstepped the mark of what it was legally allowed to do under the Police Reform Act 2002 – where it should be handling police complaints, not determining them. He said the IPCC should be making recommendations to forces and the CPS in relation to possible charges – not bringing them itself.
The IPCC report concluded PC Armstrong’s arrest was unlawful because he did not elaborate on the public order offence he was arresting Mr Sutcliffe for, as the Police and Criminal Evidence Act requires.
The watchdog concluded that the use of force against Mr Sutcliffe was unnecessary – because it deemed the arrest to be unlawful, and this amounted to an assault.
The IPCC report added: “On the balance of probabilities all uses of force used by PC Armstrong were unlawful and excessive and thereby constituted an assault.”
Judge Richardson said: “Although the evaluation of what Mr Sutcliffe said as opposed to what PC Armstrong said was entirely permissible, the final decision on whether any conduct amounted to an assault or was unlawful was ultimately a matter for the decision maker.
“All the report should have suggested was, at most, there was a case to be answered in respect of police disciplinary charges or criminal charges.”
Assistant Chief Constable John Robins of West Yorkshire Police welcomed the ruling.
He said: “We are pleased with the judgement and the awarding of costs, which I feel justifies our decision to bring this case.
“We understand the decision of the Judge to grant permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal (the highest court within the senior courts).
“The case was on a very important legal issue that has never been considered in detail in this court and we would welcome the opportunity for the Court of Appeal to provide authoritative guidance on this issue.”
An IPCC spokesman said: “The IPCC in its investigation reports must be allowed the right to express reasonable views based on evidence.
“It is our view that this report did not overstep any mark and as such we intend to appeal the judgment.”
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