Police complaints handling, investigations and misconduct issues: independent review


This group is no longer active. The review has concluded and work to progress implementation of recommendations set out in the report are underway.

The purpose of this independent review was to:

  • consider the current law and practice in relation to complaints handling, investigations and misconduct issues, as set out in relevant primary and secondary legislation
  • assess and report on the effectiveness of the current law and practice
  • make recommendations to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and the Lord Advocate for improvements to ensure the system is fair, transparent, accountable and proportionate, in order to strengthen public confidence in policing in Scotland

It was announced in June 2018 by the then Cabinet Secretary for Justice Michael Matheson during a statement to the Scottish Parliament.

The review was led by the Rt Hon Dame Elish Angiolini DBE QC and commenced in September 2018.

The Review encompassed the investigation of criminal allegations against the police. It did not address the separate role of the Lord Advocate in investigating criminal complaints against the police or the role of HMICS in scrutinising the state, effectiveness and efficiency of both the Police Service of Scotland (Police Scotland) and the Scottish Police Authority (SPA). The consideration of specific complaints and investigations did not form part of the review beyond informing an overall assessment of the efficacy of current systems and processes.

Read a news release about the review.

Read the terms of reference for the group.

Call for evidence

call for evidence was published on 13 December 2018 and ran until 13 March 2019. 

Preliminary report

On 21 June 2019 we published the review's preliminary report.

Final report

Dame Elish’s final report was published on 11 November 2020.

SG response

The SG and Crown Office response to the final report was published on 5 February 2021.

Review conclusion

The review has concluded and work to progress implementation of recommendations set out in the report are underway.


Dame Elish Angiolini

This independent review was conducted by Dame Elish Angiolini.

After nearly two decades with Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in various roles, latterly as Regional Procurator Fiscal for Grampian, Highlands and Islands, Dame Elish was installed as Solicitor General in 2001 and then as Lord Advocate in 2006 – the first woman, the first Procurator Fiscal and the first solicitor to hold either post. 

She remained in office after the 2007 election, becoming the first Lord Advocate to serve two different Scottish Government administrations and after stepping down in 2011 was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to the administration of justice.

Dame Elish has gone on to lead significant reviews in the fields of law and criminal justice, as well as public health.  In June 2011 she was appointed as Chair of the Commission set up to examine the issue of how female offenders are dealt with in the Criminal Justice System in Scotland. 

She led the Independent Review into the Investigation and Prosecution of Rape in London, which reported in 2015 and also chaired the Mortonhall Review for Edinburgh Council and the National Cremation Investigation for the Scottish Government, which reported in June 2016. 

Dame Elish’s report into deaths in police custody in England and Wales, commissioned by the Home Secretary, was published in October 2017.

The work of this Review commissioned by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and the Lord Advocate and independently led and directed by Dame Elish, was supported by a small secretariat until December 2020.


It is vital that the police can be held appropriately to account if things go wrong.  Without such accountability, policing by consent can be undermined. Without such accountability, it also becomes more difficult to learn lessons and make improvements to prevent the recurrence of mistakes, bad practice, wrongdoing and criminality.

Therefore, it is essential that systems for complaints handling, investigations and misconduct issues in relation to policing are fair, transparent, and accountable, respecting the rights of all those involved.  Systems in which police officers, staff and the public can have confidence.

Following a period of intense parliamentary, media and public scrutiny of the existing arrangements, the decision to establish an independent review was announced in June 2018. 

It was acknowledged at that time that arrangements must ultimately build public confidence in policing, and that questions had been raised about the way in which the existing framework operates and whether it could be improved. Thus, the then Cabinet Secretary for Justice advised Parliament of his expectation that the review would ensure that:

  • roles and responsibilities at all levels are clear
  • there are agreed protocols that balance transparency with an appropriate level of confidentiality
  • the framework and processes are fair, transparent, accountable and proportionate, upholding fundamental human rights

Complaints about the police need at present to be made by following the avenues described in the leaflet A guide for complaints about the police.



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