The police are given special powers so that they might better carry out their duties. However, if they exceed these powers, their actions could well be illegal and give rise to a claim in either the civil or criminal courts.
Alongside the special powers given to the police goes a duty and obligation to those with whom they deal. If they fail to carry this out, there may well be grounds for a complaint and civil action against the force. If they overstep the mark, act incompetently or in any way wrongly, this can lead to a claim for damages from those they have wronged. Police officers are required to act with honesty and integrity, fairness and impartiality, treat members of the public and their colleagues with respect, and not abuse their powers and authority. In particular, they must not act in a manner which discredits or undermines public confidence in the police service.
If the police have acted wrongly, failed in their duty or exceeded their powers, there is a laid down complaints procedure which must first be followed. Each police force is required to have a Professional Standards Department, which will be responsible for overseeing complaints about the conduct of police officers. This procedure is overseen by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Serious complaints must be referred to the IPCC, who will investigate a complaint and supervise an investigation. Anyone who has been adversely affected by the conduct of a police officer may complain to the IPCC. The outcome of a complaint could include: a change in procedures by the force, advice to an officer involved or disciplinary proceedings against him or referral to the Crown Prosecution Service to decide if criminal charges should be brought.
A complaint may be thoroughly and fairly investigated by the IPCC and a full written explanation provided. The question will sometimes arise however as to whether the law can assist and a claim be made by a person effected by wrongdoing by the police.
It is not possible under the law of England and Wales to claim for maladministration. Thus, a claim based upon management failings by a police force or failure to properly investigate is unlikely to succeed.
A common allegation is malicious prosecution. This, however, is surrounded by difficulties. There is a need to show malice; a difficult and often impossible hurdle to surmount. It is necessary to prove that the police had a motive other than to bring an offender to justice for taking the action complained about. It is quite insufficient to just show that there were no reasonable grounds for bringing a prosecution. There have been few cases where this barrier has been crossed notwithstanding S5 of the European Convention on Human Rights.