Inspection of the management of criminal allegations against the police by COPFS

HM Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland's report on how criminal allegations against the police are dealt with by Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service


The aim of this inspection was to assess the management of criminal allegations against the police by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), with a view to providing assurance to the Lord Advocate, the public and other stakeholders that such cases are dealt with effectively and efficiently.

Criminal allegations against the police have been the subject of much media and public interest in recent years in Scotland, the UK and around the world. Particularly in relation to allegations that a police officer has committed an offence while on duty, given the privileged place that the police occupy in our society and the powers they exercise on behalf of the state, it is essential that allegations are investigated thoroughly and independently, and in a manner that maintains public confidence in the criminal justice system.

In Scotland, all criminal allegations against those serving with the police are reported to COPFS, our sole prosecuting authority. COPFS is able to independently oversee and direct the investigation into criminal allegations, before making a decision as to whether the person complained about should be prosecuted. COPFS has separate processes for dealing with criminal allegations against the police depending on whether the alleged criminal conduct was committed while on duty or while off duty. We reviewed how COPFS manages both types of allegations. Part 1 of this report focuses on the management of criminal allegations against those serving with the police while they are on duty, while Part 2 focuses on off duty allegations.

Overall, we conclude that the quality of decision making by COPFS is good and that the public should be reassured by the robust scrutiny which is applied to on duty criminal allegations against the police. There is scope for improvement, however. There is a need for greater clarity about how on and off duty allegations should be managed among those agencies that report allegations to COPFS and among its own staff. Reporting agencies and COPFS can also make improvements to their processes, to ensure that COPFS is able to properly fulfil its role in independently overseeing and directing investigations. There is work to be done to ensure that decisions on whether criminal allegations should result in a prosecution are made timeously, and are communicated effectively to complainers and those complained about. We also highlight the need for greater transparency in the handling of criminal allegations against the police by COPFS and we hope our report helps in this regard.

We gathered evidence for the purpose of our inspection between December 2020 and May 2021. This included interviewing almost 40 COPFS personnel who are involved in the investigation and prosecution of criminal allegations against the police, reviewing relevant documentation and data, and observing meetings. We also engaged with a range of stakeholders and partner organisations with an interest in criminal allegations against the police. This included Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority, the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner, British Transport Police, the Scottish Police Federation, the Association for Scottish Police Superintendents and the Scottish Chief Police Officers' Staff Association. We met with solicitors who have represented those who have made a criminal allegation against the police, and solicitors who have represented police officers and staff who have been accused of a crime.

We also carried out an extensive case review. We reviewed a statistically significant sample of 80 cases reported to COPFS in which a person serving with the police was alleged to have committed an offence while on duty, and a sample of 40 cases in which the offence was committed while off duty.

In carrying out our inspection, as in all of our scrutiny activity, we applied our Inspection Framework. The framework provides a structure within which we ensure a consistent and professional approach to our work. Based on the European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM) Excellence Model, the framework has six themes:

  • Outcomes
  • Leadership and governance
  • Process
  • People
  • Resources
  • Collaborative work.

Our inspection was delivered in compliance with the law and guidance relating to the Covid-19 pandemic. This was facilitated by inspectorate staff working from home but having direct, remote access to COPFS systems, while all interviews were carried out via video conferencing. While we have adapted well to inspecting remotely and video conferencing undoubtedly offers benefits such as minimising travel time and expense for inspectors and interviewees, we have nonetheless found that delivering an inspection of this scale has taken longer than would likely have been the case had our inspection team been co-located.

In response to our inspection, COPFS will be asked to create an action plan so that our recommendations can be addressed. We will monitor progress against this plan.

We are grateful to all those who participated in our work and shared their views and experiences with us. We would particularly like to think the Head of the Crown's Criminal Allegations Against the Police Division and his team who assisted us throughout our inspection.

Laura Paton

HM Chief Inspector of Prosecution in Scotland



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