Policing - complaints handling, investigations and misconduct issues: independent review

First independent review of complaint handling, misconduct and investigations since the creation of new policing structures in 2013. Dame Elish Angiolini reviewed the effectiveness of the new systems for dealing with complaints against the police, how well complaints are investigated and the processes involved.

Chapter Seventeen - Interactions between the four principal organisations, relationships and culture

17.1 The preliminary Report described the role of the principal organisations that have a crucial role in dealing with complaints against the police. Generally, they are motivated to carry out their functions in a thoroughly professional way. What however became clear through the early evidence to the Review (and from previous media coverage) and was a matter of serious concern, was that certain aspects of those relationships were sub‑optimal, were characterised by an absence of constructive engagement and coloured by a tone of cynicism.

17.2 I commented at the time that:

"Suspicious is not impartial, and impartiality is the foundation of every component part of the justice system. Suspicion can breed a lack of professional respect and a lack of confidence in other parties which can be corrosive. Suspicion must not be allowed to damage the trust on which relationships depend and the responsibility for ensuring that does not happen rests with the leadership teams".

17.3 I suggested that a concerted effort was required to make these crucial professional relationships work more effectively. Better liaison at every level of interaction was needed to increase understanding and to reduce the unnecessary tension evident over the first few years of the new structures. I very much welcomed the establishment in August 2018 of the Quad meeting, which brings together senior representatives of Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC) and Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), as a means to address some of the problems which had arisen and to consider practical issues collectively. There would have been benefit in having such a mechanism in place earlier.

17.4 In the preliminary report I recommended a senior cross-agency joint working group to review guidance in respect of each of the agencies. I also recommended that the group should take direction from and report to the Quad meeting. The working group was established in 2019 as the National Complaint Handling Development Group. I proposed that group might also be the forum at which the prioritisation of the most serious cases is discussed, trends analysed prior to papers being submitted to the SPA Complaints and Conduct Committee and information‑sharing protocols updated.

17.5 In setting the tone for future engagement and improvement, I also proposed that the Quad meeting should be guided by the ethos of 'From sanctions to solutions'[156] and turn into a reality its philosophy of non‑punitive learning from complaints that do not involve misconduct, gross misconduct or criminality. I am pleased this statutory guidance is being updated by the PIRC in consultation with the other organisations.

17.6 The Quad meeting has been re-named the Strategic Oversight Group (SOG). It brings together organisations that have to be structurally and constitutionally independent but which cannot effectively function in isolation from each other. The efficacy of the system requires professional and positive relationships that can and must take into account distinct responsibilities and essential structural independence, but there has to be a recognition on the part of all those organisations that they are also interdependent.

17.7 The paramount purpose of the Strategic Oversight Group should be to develop a common understanding and expression of what the organisations are trying to achieve collectively and the kind of culture that they are trying to engender. It is important that the Scottish Parliament, the public, the staff associations and unions and all the other main stakeholders understand and buy in to that philosophy.

17.8 The approach being adopted south of the border in the light of the Chapman Report[157]is described in the Evidence from other jurisdictions chapter at page 296, but it is worth noting that the new Home Office approach is based on creating a learning culture which focuses on prevention, early intervention and support for the people involved, and a culture that applies equally to all parties, who should be willing to listen, reflect and learn lessons. The Home Office's stated intention was to remove the explicit link between a complaint and the conduct of an officer, and to make the system less about blame and more about the customer.

17.9 The recent evidence suggests that the need to improve communication between organisations that I identified has been addressed and I very much welcome the shift that has taken place. The previous non‑sharing of certain information between organisations that concerned me is no longer evident. In the preliminary report I commented on the Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) that exist between a number of the organisations tending to be very short and in need of updating.

17.10 The Scottish Police Authority Complaints and Conduct Committee continue to have regular engagement with Police Scotland. The Assistant Chief Constable for Professionalism and Assurance and senior Professional Standards Department officers attend committee meetings to answer questions in the public sessions and to brief members on sensitive matters in private session. The Committee also supported the secondment of an inspector to the Authority's Complaints team until that officer was recalled to Police Scotland because of COVID-19 demands. The Committee renewed its invitation to the PIRC to attend and I welcome the participation of the PIRC Head of Reviews and Policy at their March 2020 meeting.

17.11 In her most recent submission to the Review the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner said, "The Strategic Oversight Group has been instrumental in resolving a number of issues that had been creating difficulties for one or more of the organisations. The protocol on sharing information for misconduct proceedings is such an example." At an early SOG meeting Police Scotland raised the issue of obtaining sufficient information to make informed decisions about misconduct proceedings relating to officers under investigation. PIRC subsequently drafted an Information Sharing Protocol in relation to misconduct proceedings which, following consultation, was agreed by Police Scotland, COPFS and PIRC.

17.12 Police Scotland told the Review that:

"Police Scotland recognises the development of a revised and substantially more detailed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and Information Sharing Agreement (ISA) between the PIRC, SPA and Police Scotland as a key piece of work and has been working closely with these organisations in development of both document sets. The revised MOU and ISA will ensure that the necessity, relevance and proportionality tests for sharing the information are all met and will further ensure that information shared is managed appropriately. The MOU and ISA will formalise both the positive spirit of partnership working that exists between the organisations and existing processes developed to allow for organisational learning and to support the welfare of those involved."

17.13 The PIRC has also instituted regular bilateral meetings with the Criminal Allegations Against Police Division (CAAP‑D) and the Scottish Fatalities Investigation Unit (SFIU) of COPFS. Additionally, in order to increase awareness of the PIRC role in the investigation of deaths following police contact or in custody, PIRC is contributing to training for members of staff for these units and the COPFS Homicide on‑call team.

17.14 The National Complaint Handling Development Group (NCHDG) reports to the SOG. It normally meets every six weeks and includes representatives from the PIRC, the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) and Professional Standards Department and is chaired by the PIRC Head of Reviews and Policy. The group has been instrumental in fostering a more collaborative and constructive approach between all parties involved in complaint handling and seeks to make improvements in all aspects of complaint handling. Those improvements include: the roll-out of a more streamlined frontline resolution process by Police Scotland; developing a joint annual audit strategy for Police Scotland, the SPA and the PIRC; and aligning the three organisations' unacceptable actions policies for dealing with vexatious or malicious complaints to ensure that they are consistent, robust and efficient.

17.15 Another positive example of constructive engagement and joint working is the separate Group now established to consider cross-border jurisdictional issues. That group includes Police Scotland, the PIRC, COPFS, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI), Scottish Government and the Home Office. The conclusions of that group will come to the Strategic Oversight Group in due course for final agreement. I comment on the substantive cross-border matters in the Cross‑border jurisdictional issues chapter at page 426.

17.16 Police Scotland told the Review in its most recent written submission of evidence that:

"Police Scotland is committed to having a positive impact on complaint handling services to the public and endeavour to promote a culture of organisational learning across the Service. To achieve this, the Professional Standards Department (PSD) cascades good practice, incorporating and communicating areas for development and learning points, and disseminates recommendations from partner agencies. While much has already been achieved, Police Scotland recognises that organisations must continually work together to identify ways to improve service provision and meet new and emerging demands. PSD continues to actively seek partnership opportunities to improve the quality of service provided to the public and to promote organisational learning."

17.17 As well as this engagement with partners, Police Scotland has also established an internal Complaint Handling Review Working Group (CHRWG) to address my preliminary report recommendations that were specific to Police Scotland. Constructive engagement between Police Scotland and the PIRC has taken place over appropriate access to the Criminal History System and the Centurion complaints and conduct database and I comment on both those subjects in the Police Scotland chapter at page 81.

17.18 I previously suggested that in addition to updating, expanding and adhering to the bilateral Memorandums of Understanding, there would be a huge potential benefit in creating and adopting a new four‑way Memorandum of Understanding based on a common purpose and shared objectives.

17.19 I also suggested that the creation of such a document was a matter for Police Scotland, the SPA, the PIRC and COPFS to take forward but I believed that it should encapsulate shared objectives shaped around these seven headings:

  • Increasing public confidence and satisfaction with service
  • Ensuring consistent practice
  • Dealing effectively and expeditiously with complaints to reduce delays
  • Increasing public awareness and understanding
  • Improving communication with the public around progress
  • Fostering proactive co-operation between organisations
  • Sharing information

17.20 In its Terms of Reference the Strategic Oversight Group has adopted and adapted these objectives to form the core of its stated purpose. I very much welcome that. SOG is attended by the Deputy Crown Agent, the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner, the Assistant Chief Constable for Professionalism and Assurance and an SPA Director. Meetings, which take place every two months, are chaired by COPFS, the SPA, the PIRC and Police Scotland in rotation. The Terms of Reference also provide that SOG meetings may be attended in part by HMICS and Scottish Government.

17.21 This series of collaborative interactions, together with the recently revised Memorandum of Understanding between the PIRC, Police Scotland and the SPA, should form an effective platform for ensuring improvement and effective learning across the agencies in the future and can only be of benefit to the public.

Preliminary report recommendation: There should be the immediate establishment of a senior cross-agency joint Working Group involving the SPA, Police Scotland and the PIRC to develop appropriate and up‑to‑date guidance.


Email: ian.kernohan@gov.scot

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