Complaining about police discrimination

Complaints of discrimination against the police are sadly common.  Those from marginalised groups within society are often let down by those who are supposed to be upholding the law.  This can be a humiliating and degrading experience.

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for public authorities such as the police to discriminate on the basis of any 'protected characteristic'.  The protected characteristics are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage/civil partnership status, race, religion/belief, sex and sexual orientation.

Discrimination can also take various forms and does not simply need to be treating somebody differently because of their protected characteristic.  There are direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, victimisation, discrimination arising from disability, and failure to make reasonable adjustments.  The Equality and Human Rights Commission publishes a number of useful resources about the Equality Act and discrimination generally.

A breach of the Equality Act can mean that a civil claim for damages can be brought against the police. You are also within your rights to submit a police complaint.

The IPCC (now re-named the Independent Office for Police Conduct or 'IOPC') has published dedicated guidance that police forces should follow when investigating complaints of discrimination.  The guidance is too detailed to cover comprehensively here, but below are some key points:

  • The officer investigating your complaint should ideally take a detailed statement from you, in order to gain a full understanding of your complaint of discrimination, including why you feel you were discriminated against and how.
  • 'Patterns of behaviour' evidence may need to be considered - such as the history of complaints previously made against the same officers to see if similar complaints of discrimination have been made in the past
  • The investigator should look for any discriminatory language that the officer in question might have used as these can be indicators of discriminatory attitudes
  • A detailed account should be taken from the officer. Depending on the circumstances of the case the best way to do this may be by interviewing the officer.  In other cases the investigator may take a written statement from the officer but their account should then be probed further.  The officer should not simply be asked directly "did you discriminate against the complainant" because this serves no probative purpose. Instead the aim should be finding out what the officer did and then exploring the rationale for their actions.

Unfortunately we often see that where individuals have brought complaints of discrimination themselves, police forces will carry out investigations that fail to adhere to the IPCC guidance on discrimination complaints, and do not amount to a proportionate investigation. In such cases it may be possible to appeal to the IOPC but the police complaint system is daunting and difficult to navigate.  Having a specialist solicitor on board is often the best course of action and will maximise your chances of a successful outcome.

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