So today the Independent Police Complaints Commission has cleared armed police officers of any wrongdoing over the killing of Mark Duggan over 3 years ago, following an inquest verdict of lawful killing a year ago. However the police officer who fired the fatal shots refused to be interviewed by the IPCC; why could he not be compelled to answer questions? A week ago it was decided that no further action would be taken after the child sex abuse victims in Rochdale were repeatedly let down by police officers, one of whom retired to escape prosecution; why is retirement allowed to preempt prosecution?
For 40 years, it is now alleged, investigations into a high-level paedophile ring in Westminster were halted and evidence suppressed to protect senior MPs and police officers. For a decade industrial-scale phone-hacking at the News of the World was brushed aside by the police for fear of Murdoch. Still no-one has been held to account for the illegal shooting of Jean-Charles Menezes in July 2005, or for the calculated deception used by undercover police officers against environmental activists, or even for the Hillsborough disaster in which 96 football fans died because of policing errors. But of course it’s not just the police.
Who was held to account when the bankers crashed the economy in 2008-9 and the taxpayers had to pay £70bn to bail them out, and are still paying now though semi-permanent austerity? Nobody. Which senior bankers have been prosecuted for pensions-mis-selling, endowment mortgage fraud, the enormous PPI scam, Libor-rigging, or servicing drug cartels or pariah states? None. Who was held to account for GCHQ’s mass surveillance of private communications for a decade unbeknown to the public (and would very likely still be continuing now were it not for Edward Snowden)? Nobody. Were the biggest miscreants over the MPs’ expenses scandal prosecuted? No.
So what should be done to restore accountability which has clearly broken down across the board? The regulatory system is clearly not working properly, either because it is ineffective (as Ofgem is in supervising the energy market) or because it issues fines whilst not prosecuting the perpetrators (as the FCA in supervising financial markets) or because it lacks the powers to enforce its decisions (as the Ombudsman system does). What is clearly needed is a back-up system that can really enforce due penalties.
The most effective way to do that would be an extension of the powers of Commons Select Committees which already effectively hold ministers to account, but need further powers to enforce resignations or disqualification from office which are ultimately the only really effective sanctions. Where a Select Committee, after reviewing a controversial case and publicly interviewing the personnel concerned, believes that further action is required beyond that prescribed by the existing regulatory body, it should be empowered to draft an appropriate motion for debate on the floor of the House and a vote which would register a final decision.