Police complaints handling, investigations and misconduct issues: independent review


The purpose of this independent review is 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 Cabinet Secretary for Justice Michael Matheson during a statement to the Scottish Parliament.

The review is being led by Rt Hon Dame Elish Angiolini DBE QC.

Whilst the Review will encompass the investigation of criminal allegations against the police, it will 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 will 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

The review wants to hear about a range of experiences of police complaints, to help inform Dame Elish's report and recommendations.

To assist with this, a call for evidence was published on 13 December 2018 and ran until 13 March 2019. 

While this call for evidence has now formally closed, it is still possible to share information with the review by emailing secretariat@independentpolicingreview.scot

Preliminary report

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


Dame Elish Angiolini

This independent review is being 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.

Review plans and activities

As commissioned by the Cabinet Secretary and Lord Advocate, the review will consist of two phases:

  • the first phase will include a consideration of current procedures and guidance to identify areas for immediate improvement
  • the second phase will include a wider assessment of the frameworks and practice in relation to complaints handling, investigations and misconduct issues, covering the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner, the SPA and Police Scotland. Recommendations in the final report should take into account human rights considerations, as well as seeking to identify longer term improvements

It is envisaged that the review will:

  • provide an initial report to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Lord Advocate, covering the first phase
  • carry out further necessary engagement for the wider second phase and provide a final report

To inform this work, it is anticipated that the review's activities will include engaging with key stakeholders, including individuals and families with first-hand experience of the operation of current systems and processes, via a range of channels.  However, beyond informing an overall assessment of the efficacy of systems and processes, the consideration of specific complaints and investigations will not form part of the Review in either phase.

The work of the review, independently led and directed by Dame Elish, is supported by a small secretariat.

Information about the review's plans and activities will be published as it becomes available.


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 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.