CLS Direct - Home Page

Site Map | Feedback | Key Shortcuts | Help   

11 Dealing with the Police - updated version available September 16

pdf icon

Download Dealing with the Police (PDF File 292kb)

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

8. How to make a complaint

You should make a complaint within one year of the incident you are complaining about. If it is later than a year, the IPCC or the police force you complain to may not look at your complaint unless you have a good reason for the delay. Many people make complaints while they are still under arrest at the police station or just after they have been released. It is probably best to wait until after you have been released and have had the chance to get advice.

If the police have injured you, you should see a doctor so that they can make a note of your injuries. You should also get photographs of any injuries that you can see, like cuts or bruises.

You can make a complaint by phone or in person, but it is best to make your complaint in writing. You may want to get help with writing your letter from a solicitor or other adviser, or you can ask a solicitor, adviser or another person to make your complaint for you. You will need to give them written permission to make the complaint for you.

What to include in your complaint
Your complaint should include:

  • your name;
  • as much detail as you can about the events that have led to your complaint;
  • information about any witnesses; and
  • the name of the officer you are complaining about, if you know it. If you do not know their name, you should give the IPCC or police force details that will enable them to identify the officer. This could be, for example, the number on the shoulder of the officer's uniform, or the registration number of the police car they were driving.

Who to complain to
If you don't want to make your complaint directly to the police force of the officer you are complaining about, you can complain to:

  • the IPCC;
  • certain organisations called 'gateway organisations' (These are organisations with experience of helping people make police complaints, for example, many Citizens Advice Bureaux); or
  • any other police force or police authority.

See 'Further help' for details on how to contact the IPCC.

The organisation you have sent it to will pass your complaint on to the appropriate police force or police authority. However, if you complain to the IPCC, it should normally get your permission before sending your complaint on. You will be told when your complaint has been passed on.

What will happen when your complaint is received
The appropriate police force (or police authority, if your complaint is about a senior police officer) must usually record (make a note of) your complaint, except when:

  • your complaint is about something that you cannot make a complaint about, such as 'direction and control issues' (matters of general police procedures or policies);
  • action is already being taken against the officer involved for what you are complaining about; or
  • you withdraw your complaint.

You should receive a copy of the record of your complaint. If you are told that your complaint has not been recorded, you should also be told why. If you don't agree with this decision, you can appeal to the IPCC. You have 28 days to do this.

How your complaint will be dealt with
There are four ways in which your complaint can be dealt with:

  • 'local resolution';
  • a police investigation;
  • a police investigation 'supervised' or 'managed' by the IPCC; or
  • an IPCC investigation.

Each of these options is explained in detail below.

If your complaint is about a serious matter, the IPCC will decide how it will be investigated. For less serious matters, the police will choose between a police investigation and local resolution, although they may need to get the IPCC to agree to their choice. Your complaint can only be dealt with by local resolution if you agree to this.

Even after a decision has been made about how to deal with your complaint, the IPCC can decide at any time to take over the investigation itself.

Local resolution
Local resolution is a way of dealing with less serious complaints. It should not normally be used if what you are complaining about could lead to a police officer being prosecuted for a crime or to disciplinary action against the police officer.

For your complaint to be dealt with by local resolution, you have to agree. If you don't want your complaint dealt with by local resolution, it will be dealt with by a police investigation. If you do agree to local resolution, you cannot change your mind about it later. However, the police can decide at any time to change the investigation into a police investigation.
Different police forces have different ways of dealing with complaints by local resolution. Before you decide whether to agree to local resolution, the police should explain these to you clearly and in person.

If the police agree with your complaint (it is 'upheld'), you may get an apology from the police. However, they can't make a police officer you have complained about apologise personally. The police cannot bring a disciplinary charge against the officer, and the officer will have no formal record on their file, although a record will be made of the complaint. You can get a copy of this record as long as you ask for it within three months of your complaint being dealt with.

You can appeal to the IPCC if you are not happy with the way the local resolution was handled. You should do this in writing within 28 days of your complaint being dealt with. You can appeal only if the police did not follow the procedures they agreed at the start. You cannot appeal because you are not happy with the decision about your complaint. If the IPCC agrees with your appeal, local resolution may be tried again, or your complaint may be investigated in a different way.

Police investigations
A police investigation is one run by the police force itself. If your complaint is about a senior police officer, then the police authority - rather than the police force - will run the investigation. A police authority is a body set up to monitor a police force, and the people on the police authority are not police officers. The police force (or police authority) will give a particular police officer the job of investigating your complaint. This police officer may come from a different police force.
Supervised or managed investigations
These types of investigation are for serious complaints.

The complaint is investigated by a police officer but the officer is either 'supervised' by the IPCC ('supervised investigation') or directed by it ('managed investigation'). The IPCC can insist that the police officer who investigates your complaint comes from a different police force from the one that the officer you are complaining about belongs to. 

Independent Police Complaints Commission investigations
This type of investigation is done by members of the IPCC staff. It is used only for the most serious of cases - for example, where someone dies in police custody or is killed by the police.

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

go to top of page

CLS Legal Info Leaflets

Find a local Advisor

Enter your postcode or town to find a local advisor.

CLS Legal Information Leaflets Legal Factsheets CLS Fund & Charges Legal Aid Calculator Other Links Using Advice Search Topics Using the Directory Nationals & Helplines Categories of Law Charges Complaints News Quality Mark Information for Providers