Police Scotland hierarchy and accountability details: FOI release

Information request and response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002

Information requested

In 2016 who were Police Scotland accountable to?
Who was SPA?
Which Scottish Ministers?
Which members of parliament?

In 2017 and in 2021.
Who was SPA?
Which Scottish Ministers?
Which members of parliament?

Which department oversees the 4,000 complaints about Police Scotland each year?


The Police Service of Scotland has been established since 1 April 2013 under the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 and came into being on 1 April 2013. It is responsible for policing across the whole of Scotland. The Service is led by the Chief Constable who is responsible, and must account to the Scottish Police Authority, (SPA) for the policing of Scotland in terms of Section 17(1) of the Act.
The Chief Constable does not deliver services on behalf of the Authority, but is held to account by the Authority with support from staff appointed by the SPA. The Chief Constable must ensure that the policing of Scotland is done with due regard to any recommendations made or guidance issued by the Authority on the policing of Scotland.

The SPA, which was established as a national public body under the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012, came into being on 1 April 2013. It is responsible for the governance, oversight and administration of the Police Service of Scotland, the provision of Forensic Services and for Independent Custody Visiting Services.

The Authority’s main statutory functions as set out in Section 2 of the Act are to -

  • maintain the Police Service of Scotland;
  • promote the statutory policing principles;
  • promote and support continuous improvement in the policing of Scotland;
  • keep the policing of Scotland under review; and
  • hold the Chief Constable to account for the policing of Scotland.

The Authority is responsible for the allocation of the policing budget. The Authority’s Chief Executive is designated by the Permanent Secretary of the Scottish Government as the Accountable Officer for this budget.

The Authority is accountable to Scottish Ministers who are in turn accountable to the Scottish Parliament for the activities of the Authority and its use of resources. The Authority must also comply with any direction (general or specific) given by the Scottish Ministers. The SPA Chief Executive, as designated Accountable Officer is answerable to the Scottish Parliament for the exercise of their functions.

Scottish Ministers determine the strategic police priorities that the Authority and Police Service of Scotland are expected to deliver upon.

Specifically, in 2016, 2017 and 2021 the Police Service of Scotland was accountable to the SPA. It has been under this contiguous scrutiny since inception in 2013.

The following link will furnish you with comprehensive information on the SPA; Scottish Police Authority

Current Board members may be found at the following link; Board Members - Scottish Police Authority (spa.police.uk)

Furthermore, in respect of accountability, the Chief Constable is not directly accountable to Scottish Ministers. Scottish Ministers do not have a power of direction, as is the case with other some other public bodies, including the Authority.

While not formally accountable to Parliament, the Chief Constable will on occasion be called to Parliament to describe the actions of the Police Service of Scotland.

There is no Scottish Government department that oversees annual complaints about Police Scotland. An independent body, the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC), undertakes this responsibility. The role of the PIRC was introduced in 2013 when the single Police Service of Scotland was established.

The Commissioner, who is appointed by Scottish Ministers, is independent of the police and delivers a free and impartial service. The role of the PIRC is to provide independent oversight, investigating incidents involving the police and reviewing the way police handle complaints from the public. Their aim is to secure public confidence in policing in Scotland.

You may find the following link to PIRC useful; https://pirc.scot/

It may also be useful for you to be aware that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary for Scotland (HMICS) has powers to look into the “state, effectiveness and efficiency” of Police Scotland. The Chief Constable must provide the inspectors of constabulary with such assistance and co-operation as they may require for the purposes of, or in connection with, the carrying out of their functions (and must, in particular, comply with any reasonable request made by the inspectors of constabulary in that regard).

In 2019, HMICS produced a short note on the operational responsibility of the Chief Constable. It said that, “The wider question of the extent of operational independence of a Chief Constable is one that has been returned to repeatedly over many years, as far back as the Royal Commission on Policing in 1962. The concept has never been defined successfully and the term “operational responsibility” is felt to be more accurate in describing the position where the Chief Constable has sole responsibility for the direction and control of police officers and staff, but must be accountable to the Scottish Police Authority for operational decisions.”

You may find the following link to HMICS useful; HMICS | Home

About FOI

The Scottish Government is committed to publishing all information released in response to Freedom of Information requests. View all FOI responses at http://www.gov.scot/foi-responses.


Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Email: ceu@gov.scot
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrews House
Regent Road

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