The institutions assigned with law implementation are obligated with a wide range of jobs that needs a high amount of honesty inside police departments. The moment this value is not compromised, the law-implementing officers become susceptible to dishonest practices as well as acts outside their jurisdiction. The ruling of Human rights judges in the case of Jean Charles de Menezes’s death in police custody stated that no abuse of any of the clauses of the Convention has taken place in this particular case. However, this case has brought to light the grave scenario in Britain and other parts of the UK with regard to the high number of deaths taking place in UK police custody. This paper intends to study the rising cases of custodial death and the police accountability of the same. Various cases will be explored and the relevant statutory provisions and judgments will be studied.

In the last five years, the cases of deaths taking place in police custody have reached a new height. The number of people who have died in or after police custody has been recorded at 827 in 2004. However, no police officers have been convicted since 1969. As per the 2014-15 data from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), 17 people have died in or after police custody, which is six deaths more than the last year. Prior to this, the data in 2010-11 showed the estimate at 21. The IPCC also showed that there have been 69 cases of suicides recorded following police detention. This number is more than half the suicide cases recorded in 2010-11.

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In the event of any death taking place while in custody, the police have an obligation to call in the IPCC. The IPCC is legally obliged to protect and give assurance to the public to behold their confidence in the system when having any complaints against the police. But time and again, it has been observed that the IPCC has been biased towards the police officers who have been implicated, rather than being neutral in the case. Families have fought tough for fairness, facing numerous disappointments and police resistance from the IPCC. Though IPCC asserts investigating the place of custodial death like a crime scene, the truth is far from the intent. IPCC doesn’t have the authority to force police officers to produce evidence, and in the past, it has been unwilling to conduct suspiciously towards police officers accused of custodial deaths. Most of the senior investigators in IPCC were in the police department previously. This explains the reluctance of these officials in implicating the concerned police officers in case of any custodial death. The IPCC has been formed in 2004, and since then there has been a report of 827 deaths during or following police contact. No police officer was convicted for these deaths.

Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights mentions the conduct of investigations to be held upon the custodial death, employing the use of fatal power, as well in scenarios resulting from the carelessness of officers that leads to death. The article states that everybody’s right to life will be secured by the police. The only exceptions are cases “in defence of any person from unlawful violence, to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained and in action lawfully taken for the purpose of quelling a riot or insurrection.”

On 25 November 1992, Pearse Jordan, was shot dead in Belfast by police. The dead’s father complained that no appropriate investigation has been conducted upon the death. The Court unanimously held that a violation of Article 2 has taken place and compensated the Applicant 10,000 pounds sterling (GBP), along with the costs of GPB 30,000 and interest.  This case restated that the main objective of an investigation is to sustain the effectual execution of national laws which safeguards the right to life and assures the police accountability for custodial deaths under them.

To conclude, the police have some basic functions such as preventing and detecting crime, sustaining public order and making provisions for public assistance. To execute these functions, police have some powers which entitle them to arrest and detain using force. However, executing these functions puts the police in a delicate spot in the democratic context, which calls for a balance and check system to assure the forces implied are in sync with the public interest. As required from other departments of a democratic state, even the police must operate with impartiality. The last three to four decades have seen a rise in the controversy surrounding the police misdemeanour, comprising flouting of human rights, the extreme practice of force, and fraud which led to public protest worldwide. These events call for enhancing the integrity of the police force and reforming public confidence in the institution of police, leading to alterations in officers’ accountability framework with the application of more vigilant external inspection. Accountable policing implies the police readily allow the questioning procedure regarding the decisions and actions taken and accept the repercussions of being convicted of flouting the rules.


Chevalier-Watts J, ‘Effective Investigations Under Article 2 Of The European Convention On Human Rights: Securing The Right To Life Or An Onerous Burden On A State?’ (2010) 21 European Journal of International Law

Couvée K, ‘Deaths In British Police Custody: No Convicted Officers Since 1969’ (Open Democracy, 2013)

Da Silva v. United Kingdom (application 5878/08, 30 March 2016)

Dodd V, ‘Deaths In Police Custody At Highest Level For Five Years’ (the Guardian, 2015)

Handbook On Police Accountability, Oversight And Integrity (Criminal Justice Handbook Series) (1st edn, United Nations 2011)

Hugh Jordan v. United Kingdom (Application no. 24746/94, 4 August 2001)

[1] Handbook On Police Accountability, Oversight And Integrity (Criminal Justice Handbook Series) (1st edn, United Nations 2011).

[2] Da Silva v. United Kingdom (application 5878/08, 30 March 2016)

[3] Koos Couvée, ‘Deaths In British Police Custody: No Convicted Officers Since 1969’ (Open Democracy, 2013)

[4] Vikram Dodd, ‘Deaths In Police Custody At Highest Level For Five Years’ (the Guardian, 2015)

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