Communtity Law Manual | Police powers | Complaining about the police

Complaining about the police

Overview

Who can I complain to about the police?

Independent Police Conduct Authority Act 1988, s 14

If you believe the police have mistreated you or treated you unfairly, you can complain directly to the police, or you can complain to the Independent Police Conduct Authority, the Ombudsmen or a District Court. (The police, Ombudsmen or District Court must forward the complaint to the Independent Police Conduct Authority as soon as practicable).

What is the Independent Police Conduct Authority?

Independent Police Conduct Authority Act 1988, ss 4, 12

The Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) investigates and tries to resolve complaints against the police. The IPCA is separate from and independent of the police. It consists of up to five members appointed by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the House of Representatives. The chairperson is a judge or retired judge.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority:

  • receives complaints about misconduct or neglect of duty by police officers
  • receives complaints about any practice, policy or procedure of the police
  • oversees the investigation of complaints made to the authority or to the police
  • examines police investigation reports
  • where necessary, conducts its own investigation
  • resolves complaints by conciliation where possible
  • recommends disciplinary or other action.

How do I complain to the Independent Police Conduct Authority?

Independent Police Conduct Authority Act 1988, ss 14-16, 22

You can complain directly to the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) or you can complain to the police, the Ombudsmen or a District Court. The police have to pass on a complaint to the IPCA within five days, and the Ombudsmen or District Court have to pass a complaint on to the IPCA as soon as practicable.

You can complain verbally or in writing. If you do make a verbal complaint, you have to put it down in writing as soon as practicable.

Your complaint needs to say:

  • what happened
  • when and where it happened
  • the name or number of the police officer involved
  • any statements you have from people who witnessed what happened
  • doctors’ reports or photographs of any injuries
  • any other relevant information.

How will the IPCA deal with my complaint?

Independent Police Conduct Authority Act 1988, s 17

After the Independent Police Conduct Authority has received your complaint it will decide whether to investigate, and if so, what type of investigation to carry out.

Note: Where possible, the authority will try to resolve your complaint informally between you and the police (called “conciliation”).

Independent Police Conduct Authority Act 1988, s 18

The IPCA can decide not to investigate your complaint if it thinks the complaint is minor or vexatious (made only to cause annoyance), or if you have an adequate remedy or right of appeal available to you, or if you made the complaint more than a year after the incident happened.

Independent Police Conduct Authority Act 1988, s 17

If the IPCA decides your complaint should be investigated, it can do any or all of the following things:

  • investigate the complaint itself, whether or not the police have also begun to investigate themselves
  • refer the complaint to the police for them to investigate
  • get the police to investigate on the IPCA’s behalf, or oversee a police investigation of the complaint
  • if the police are doing a criminal or disciplinary investigation into the police officer involved, put off doing anything until it gets a report back from the police about their investigation.

If it’s inappropriate for the police themselves to investigate (for example, if they shot and killed a member of the public), the IPCA won’t simply oversee a police investigation, it will do its own investigation instead.

What can the IPCA do if it decides my complaint is justified?

Independent Police Conduct Authority Act 1988, ss 27-29

The IPCA can make recommendations that it thinks are appropriate, including that criminal or disciplinary charges be brought against the police officer involved. Any recommendations are sent to the Commissioner of police, who will decide what action to take to give effect to the recommendations and then report back to the authority.

If the IPCA thinks the police aren’t taking action, it must notify the Attorney-General and the Minister of Police, and can give the Attorney-General a report to give to Parliament.

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