Chapter Twenty‑eight - Time limits
28.1 I have considered whether the relevant Scottish legislation should set statutory time limits for the completion of misconduct processes, other investigations or the submission of complaints by members of the public.
28.2 In their submission to the Review the Law Society of Scotland suggested that:
"There needs to be public confidence in the independence of the complaint‑making processes. Timescales of the process from the time of initiation of the complaint to conclusion must be much clearer and shorter. Just as in the case of summary justice reform, though investigations need to be robust, for both the purposes of the police and the complainer, matters need to be resolved as quickly as they can be."
28.3 Many witnesses gave evidence of long delays on the part of Police Scotland or the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC) in dealing with their complaints or complaints handling reviews. The impact of delays in the system on the careers of individual officers can be profound with prolonged periods of anxiety experienced. Many members of the public who gave evidence to the Review were at a loss to understand the delays in dealing with their cases.
28.4 Police Scotland should develop and publish realistic but stretching targets for completing the key stages of the complaints handling process. This should be done in consultation with relevant organisations. These should be consistent with any relevant statutory provisions and the statutory guidance contained in 'From sanctions to solutions' or its successor document. The current guidance states that:
"It may also help to agree reasonable time limits with the complainer, so that they are aware it may take longer if the complaint appears to be complex. If an investigation is likely to be protracted, complainers should be given regular updates on progress. Updates need not be in writing provided that auditable records are kept of those given verbally."
"The PCCS [now PIRC] therefore expects each police force [now Police Scotland] to acknowledge any complaint received within three working days, update all complainers once every calendar month, and complete all non‑criminal complaint investigations within 40 working days."
28.5 It would not be appropriate to put such detailed targets in statute but they should be reviewed and published in the imminent updated guidance. Performance against these targets should be measured and reported on regularly. The Chief Constable should publish annually Police Scotland's performance in dealing with complaints against the time‑scales set out in the statutory guidance. I recommend that the Scottish Police Authority Complaints and Conduct Committee scrutinise that performance and hold Police Scotland to account where the targets are not being achieved.
28.6 PIRC currently publish information about the volume of their business in the Commissioner's annual report but should also publish their performance against set targets for complaint handling reviews and investigations. This matter is discussed further in the PIRC chapter at page 205 where I recommend that the PIRC publish information on their performance.
28.7 Not only is it in the public interest that this area of Police Scotland activity is transparent, but clear expectations and improved performance will enhance public confidence generally and reduce the anxieties for all individuals involved in the process.
Time limits for the completion of investigations
28.8 In England and Wales The Police (Conduct) Regulations 2020 and The Police (Complaints and Misconduct) Regulations 2020[280 ] require the relevant investigating body to provide a written explanation to the Police and Crime Commissioner (or other local policing body) if an investigation is not completed within twelve months. I have not recommended that those provisions are replicated in Scotland but I have recommended in the Scottish Police Authority chapter at page 176 that where there is evidence of delays, that needs to be subject to rigorous scrutiny and that if investigations are subject to lengthy delays Police Scotland should be held to account for those delays by the SPA. This should be achieved through analysis of the data and reports given to them by the Professional Standards Department (PSD).
Time limits on the public submitting complaints
28.9 In Northern Ireland complaints have to be made to Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI) within twelve months of the event, but in special circumstances, the Ombudsman can decide to investigate a complaint about something that happened more than a year before it was reported to them. This happens when the Police Ombudsman believes the complaint to be grave or exceptional. The Northern Ireland approach is fair and pragmatic.
28.10 In Scotland there is no set time period within which a member of the public must submit their complaint to Police Scotland and I do not believe that a statutory limit would be helpful. In principle complaints should be made as soon as possible after the event in question but there are many reasons why people might take longer to do so. I discuss the reasons why some groups and individual are reluctant to complain to the police in the Inclusion, diversity and discrimination chapter at page 130. Patterns of behaviour might only become apparent over time and what might not seem to constitute misconduct or appear to justify a complaint in the first instance might do so if it is repeated.
28.11 I recommend that a non‑statutory time limit for the submission of complaints by the public should be made explicit in the PIRC's statutory guidance and publicised on the relevant websites. Complaints made more than twelve months after the event or incident should only be considered where the circumstances are grave or exceptional.
28.12 In Scotland the PIRC must receive an application for a complaint handling review within three months of the date on which the police communicated its findings to the complainer in relation to their complaint. That time limit should remain.
28.13 In considering whether the legislation should set statutory time limits for any of the processes described above, I have concluded that new statutory provision would not be feasible or necessarily result in a reduction of delays.
28.14 I agree with the Law Society of Scotland that matters should be resolved as quickly as they can be but I believe that the focus on effective triage in the early stages, removing frontline resolution from local divisions, the clarity around procedures and the enhanced audit arrangements that I have recommended are more likely, when taken together, to reduce delays and lead to swifter and more appropriate outcomes. All of those improvements need to be accompanied by a greater scrutiny of performance and greater transparency to highlight and address delays in the system. The Scottish Police Authority, the Chief Constable and the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner all have critical roles in holding their respective people to account for delays in the system.
Recommendations in relation to time limits
28.15 Recommendation: The Chief Constable should publish annually Police Scotland's performance in dealing with complaints against the time‑scales set out in the statutory guidance.
28.16 Recommendation: The Scottish Police Authority Complaints and Conduct Committee should scrutinise Police Scotland's performance in dealing with complaints and hold the service to account where the targets are not being achieved.
28.17 Recommendation: A non‑statutory time limit for the submission of complaints by the public should be made explicit in the PIRC's statutory guidance and publicised on the relevant websites. Complaints made more than twelve months after the event or incident should only be considered where the circumstances are grave or exceptional.