New ombudsman given power to investigate police

A government ombudsman’s office, expected to be created under new legislation early next year, will be given the power to investigate public complaints against police officers – including the police commissioner.

However, the ultimate decision-makers on disciplinary action against officers or criminal charges remain the same. According to the Police (Complaints by the Public) Bill, 2016, the police commissioner will decide discipline for all officers below his rank and the governor will decide on disciplinary steps against the commissioner.

The director of public prosecutions would decide on charges following an ombudsman investigation that turned up evidence of a crime committed by police officers.

The bill, which is due to come before the Legislative Assembly next month, gives the ombudsman several options in dealing with a complaint against an officer. The ombudsman may refer the complaint to the police Professional Standards Unit, appoint an “investigatory body” to review the case, or personally investigate the matter.

The bill would give the ombudsman, or a designated investigative body he or she appoints, legal power similar to that of a police chief inspector in investigating complaints, including those that allege that an officer’s action resulted in death or serious injury. The law states that complaints against a police officer should either be made at the ombudsman’s office or at a police station.

The bill gives the ombudsman broad discretion in setting up investigative procedures related to any complaint, and states that the ombudsman “may determine whether any person may be represented, by an attorney-at-law, or otherwise, in the investigation, and if so, to what extent.”

When a criminal offense is alleged to have occurred, the investigation report must be provided to the complaining party, the police officer who is the subject of the complaint, the police commissioner and the director of public prosecutions, the bill states.

If the complaint involves the police commissioner or a deputy commissioner, the governor is to be given a copy of the ombudsman’s report.

The bill does not give the ombudsman’s office power to take disciplinary action, only to make findings of fact in relation to the complaint and to make recommendations. However, those findings would carry legal weight in subsequent administrative proceedings.

According to the bill: “The findings of fact in the final investigation report are binding on the complainant and the police officer against whom the complaint was made, in any related administrative or civil proceedings, including police disciplinary matters.”

The final report of the ombudsman can be appealed to the Grand Court via the judicial review process, but only in disputes over fact or jurisdiction (i.e., whether the ombudsman had the authority to hear a particular complaint.)

The bill replaces a section of the 2010 Police Law that sought to create a Police Public Complaints Authority to field and oversee civilian complaints. That authority was never created, largely because of cost concerns.

 

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