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Study on police oversight mechanisms in Council of Europe member states
13.9.17
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"The following document sets out to provide an update to the main findings from a comprehensive review of policing oversight across the forty-seven Council of Europe States first set out in September 2015. The update reflects the position of police oversight mechanisms cross the forty-seven States as of 20 February 2017."

See: Council of Europe: Police oversight mechanisms in the Council of Europe member states (pdf, February 2017) by Jonny Byrne and William Priestley

The report includes an overview of the recent history of police oversight functions within the Council of Europe and outlines the relevant international instruments and some important decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (Strogan v Ukraine, Alder v UK). It also includes content from the European Partners Against Corruption (EPAC) Setting Standards for Europe Handbook, which in 2011 "clarified what constituted effective police oversight". The text of these principles follows.

Key principles: Operation of a police oversight body

1. The body should be sufficiently separated from the hierarchy of the police that are subject to its remit;

2. it should be governed and controlled by persons who are not current serving police officers;

3. it should in general have the power and competence to, at its own discretion, address the general public and the media about aspects of its work;

4. to perform its functions effectively it should be provided with adequate finance and resources, and should be funded by the state;

5. its mandate shall be clearly set out in a constitutional, legislative or other formal text, specifying its composition, its powers and its sphere of competence;

6. its investigators must be provided with the full range of police powers to enable them to conduct fair, independent and effective investigations, in particular the power to obtain all the information necessary to conduct an effective investigation;

7. police oversight bodies and the police should proactively ensure that members of the general public are made aware of the role and functioning of the oversight body, and their right to make a complaint; and,

8. the police oversight body shall have adequate powers to carry out its functions and where necessary should have the powers to investigate, to require an investigation or to supervise or monitor the investigation of:

i. serious incidents resulting from the actions of police officers;
ii. the use of lethal force by police officers or law enforcement officials and deaths in custody;
iii. allegations that police officers or law enforcement officials have used torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; or
iv. allegations or complaints about the misconduct of police officers or law enforcement officials;

Key principles: The Complaints System

1. Complainants should be given a clear explanation of the criteria for accepting complaints and a step-by-step guide detailing how they will be addressed, and the standard of service and outcomes they might receive;

2. the complainant should be informed of the resolution of his or her complaint; and,

3. a complainant should have the right to challenge the way in which his or her complaint was handled or resolved through a right of appeal to the police oversight body;

Key principles: Effective Investigation

1. For the investigation into death or possible ill-treatment to be effective, it is considered important that the persons responsible for carrying it out would be independent from those implicated in the events. It is important to ensure that the officials concerned are not from the same service as those who are the subject of the investigation. Ideally, those entrusted with the operational conduct of the investigation should be completely independent from the agency implicated;

2. the police oversight body must ensure that a complainant, member of the public adversely affected or the relative of someone who has died following contact with police officers or law enforcement officials is involved in the process to the extent necessary to safeguard his or her legitimate interests18;

3. where appropriate the police oversight body should have the power to refer or to recommend referral of allegations of misconduct by police officers or law enforcement officials to the body or bodies with the competence to take disciplinary action or to take those steps itself;

4. the police oversight body should have the power to submit to the government, parliament and/or other competent body, opinions, recommendations, proposals and reports on matters within its competence and to make recommendations designed to improve policing or other law enforcement activities and to try to ensure that any wider lessons are learnt from investigations of alleged misconduct by police officers and law enforcement officials;

5. the police oversight body should have the power to make recommendations designed to improve the processes, procedures and laws for the investigation of alleged misconduct by police officers and law enforcement officials;

6. where the police oversight body makes recommendations, a mechanism should be in place to ensure that these recommendations are implemented effectively;

7. a final letter or report should provide a summary of the facts taken into account, describe the result of the investigation or review undertaken, and where appropriate the reasons for the decisions that have been reached. This material should be sent to the complainant at the completion of the investigation and should also detail what the complainant can do if they are unsatisfied with the outcome. This may also assist them in the private prosecution of their case, thus providing them with an alternative avenue for redress19; and,

8. the police oversight body should have the power to publicise the results of any inquiry or investigation undertaken, where appropriate to do so, together with details of any recommendations made and progress on implementing them. Where this material is published it should be easily accessible to the public

This set of key principles, their underpinning propositions and the assertions of the European Code of Police Ethics provide the blueprint for police oversight mechanisms which are capable of properly delivering State obligations set out in legislation and in Court judgements. The models of police oversight encountered in the 47 States of the Council of Europe should be assessed against their conformance with this blueprint.

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