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11 Dealing with the Police - updated version available September 16

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1. Introduction

2. If you have a problem with the police

3. If you are stopped and searched

4. Your options for taking action

5. Suing the police

6. How to sue the police

7. Making a complaint against a police officer

The system for making complaints against the police has changed recently. A new organisation, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), now oversees complaints against police officers. It took over from the Police Complaints Authority on 1 April 2017.

There are four main reasons why you might want to make a complaint against the police rather than sue them. 

  • You can complain about more things than you could sue the police for. For example, if a police officer is offensive or abusive towards you when they search you on the street, you can't sue them (as long as the search is legal). However, you can make a complaint about the way the police treated you
  • You don't have to be a victim of wrongdoing (misconduct) by the police to be able to make a complaint. You can make a complaint if you witnessed wrongdoing by the police, or if you were badly affected by wrongdoing (for example, if you are a close relative of someone who was a victim of it
  • Only the actual victim can sue the police (though in some cases where the victim has died, a close family member can sue the police).
  • If you have to pay a lawyer's costs, making a police complaint is likely to be a lot cheaper than suing the police.

However, you cannot get compensation by making a complaint. All you can get from a complaint is an apology, although it may also lead to the police officer concerned being disciplined, dismissed or even prosecuted. There is nothing to stop you making a complaint before deciding whether to sue the police.

What can I complain about?
You can complain only about wrongdoing by individual:

  • police officers;
  • members of police staff; or
  • special constables.

You cannot complain in this way about general police procedures or policies (known as 'direction and control issues').

8. How to make a complaint

9. The result of your complaint

10. Further help

11. About this leaflet

Liberty LogoThis leaflet is published by the Legal Services Commission (LSC). It was written in association with Liberty.

The leaflets are regularly updated but the law may have changed since they were printed so the information in them may be incorrect or out of date.

Leaflet Version: August 2017

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