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 Two - Background

2.1 In 2012 the Scottish Parliament passed the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act which, amongst other things, paved the way for the establishment of both a single Police Service of Scotland (Police Scotland) and a single Scottish Police Authority (SPA) to which the Chief Constable became accountable. The statute also provided for the transformation of the office of Police Complaints Commissioner for Scotland (PCCS) into the office of Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC). In addition, it updated and expanded the functions of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) to include making "such other inquiries as they think fit about the state, efficiency and effectiveness of the Authority and the Police Service".

2.2 When the Act came into force the role of the Scottish Government changed. A new set of relationships was established between Scottish Ministers and the new public bodies. The SPA is accountable to Scottish Ministers; the Chief Constable is not. Scottish Ministers appoint the Chair and board members of the SPA, they provide SPA with grant in aid to fund their budget and Police Scotland's budget, they have a power of direction[10] (as yet unused) over the SPA, and they approve the appointment of the Chief Constable. In relation to the PIRC, it is Scottish Ministers who appoint the Commissioner and directly fund the organisation.

2.3 The independent role of the Lord Advocate as head of the systems of prosecution and investigation of deaths in Scotland was not altered by police reform. It remains the case that the Lord Advocate (or the appropriate Procurator Fiscal) can direct the Chief Constable in the investigation of crime.

2.4 Prior to 1 April 2013 when Police Scotland and the SPA came into being, policing in Scotland was based on a structure of eight regional constabularies which were accountable to eight police authorities. Those eight authorities were part of local government structures and comprised elected members. The Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency had a specialist Scotland‑wide remit and was accountable, for non‑operational matters, to the Scottish Police Services Authority and through them to Scottish Ministers. The Association of Chief Police Officers (Scotland) (ACPOS), which represented the views of the chief constables and developed national policing policy, ceased to exist after 2013.

2.5 For a jurisdiction the size of Scotland with a small population and a diverse geography, the prospect of improvement of efficiency and effectiveness represented the rationale for police reform. The Scottish Government described police reform as being about protecting and improving local services, creating more equal access to specialist support and national capacity, and strengthening the connection between police services and communities.

2.6 The draft legislation was put together rapidly, the passage of the Bill was completed by the Scottish Parliament in a relatively short period of time and the implementation period for the changes was compressed and challenging. In these first years of Police Scotland and the SPA a number of high‑profile issues and problems were the subject of intense media and public scrutiny and the atmosphere around the fledgling force appeared at times to be febrile.

2.7 In the area of complaints and investigations the turbulence of the post‑reform period reached its peak in 2017 when two senior officers were investigated by the PIRC. It is important to have a resilient system that is driven by certain procedures and not short-term imperatives. It is important that the system is not shaped by a crisis and accompanying media interest in specific cases; but a system that looks to the long term and is grounded in sound practice, sensible procedures and co‑operative working by those operating the essential checks and balances upon which it is built.


Email: ian.kernohan@gov.scot

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