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

This document is part of a collection

Key findings

On duty criminal allegations against the police

The creation in 2013 of CAAP-D, a national unit to manage all on duty criminal allegations against the police, has resulted in consistent decision making by specialist prosecutors and has facilitated more effective relationships with stakeholders.

Allegations of on duty criminal conduct are subject to robust scrutiny by COPFS with the aim of providing reassurance to the public that such allegations are investigated thoroughly and independently. Criminal proceedings against the police can only be instructed by a Law Officer.

The quality of decision making is good.

The most common complaint made by stakeholders is the length of time CAAP-D takes to decide whether a criminal allegation should result in the prosecution of the subject officer. In the 80 cases we reviewed, the average time taken to decide whether to prosecute was 18 weeks.

Over the years, CAAP-D has consistently met a 12-week target for decision making. However, this target is based on flawed data and there is a lack of robust and accurate management information about CAAP-D's work.

While communication with many complainers in the cases we reviewed was good, more can be done to involve complainers in the investigation process and to ensure they are kept up to date on the status and progress of their complaint. The quality of communication with some complainers could also be improved and communication could be better tailored to meet their needs.

There are effective leadership and internal governance arrangements in place for the management of criminal allegations against the police, albeit that governance would be strengthened if better quality data was available.

There is a lack of written policy or guidance about how COPFS manages criminal allegations against the police. This includes a lack of guidance for reporting agencies as well as internal guidance for its own staff.

There is scope to be more transparent about how criminal allegations are handled and to routinely publish data about CAAP-D's work, such as the volume of cases and their outcome.

There is a lack of information about the protected characteristics of complainers and those complained about, and there may be scope to give greater consideration to the role that race may play in complaints.

CAAP-D is not being routinely notified by the police of the existence of criminal complaints at a sufficiently early stage, which risks compromising its ability to direct or provide independent oversight of investigations.

The introduction of a procedure for reporting agencies to request advice and guidance from CAAP-D about criminal complaints has been a positive development. CAAP-D generally responds promptly to these requests.

While the investigation of some criminal complaints may be complex or protracted, there is scope for investigation reports to be submitted to CAAP-D more quickly, and for CAAP-D to have greater oversight of the progress of investigations.

While most investigation reports submitted to CAAP-D by the police and PIRC were of a high standard, others were of a variable quality. This affects how effectively and how quickly CAAP-D is able to make decisions on whether there should be a prosecution.

Investigation reports should contain more information about those complained about, to better support prosecutorial decision making.

There can be unnecessary delays in CAAP-D's processing of investigation reports upon receipt.

There is scope for CAAP-D to improve its approach to disclosure in cases where the complainer in the criminal complaint against the police is being prosecuted for a related offence.

Where there is a sufficiency of evidence in a case involving a criminal allegation against the police, the case is reported to Crown Counsel for their instruction. Their instruction was given promptly in the majority of cases we reviewed.

Once a decision is taken to prosecute a person serving with the police, CAAP-D transfers the case to the local procurator fiscal office for prosecution. We support this approach to prosecuting cases but the transfer process could work more effectively, and local prosecutors could be given more support with these cases.

It is difficult to assess whether CAAP-D's resources are appropriately matched to demand because of the lack of robust data about the journey time of cases.

There has been a reliance on experienced and expert members of CAAP-D to provide on the job training and guidance to new staff, however this is unsustainable due to recent staff turnover and the move to working from home. More formal induction and guidance will be needed in future.

On-going training opportunities for staff in CAAP-D, particularly those delivered in collaboration with partner organisations, are well-received.

Staff were very positive about their experience of working for CAAP-D and reported a good level of job satisfaction.

The lack of an electronic reporting system for criminal allegations against the police causes CAAP-D staff additional work, carries unnecessary risk and is not appropriate for a modern, digitally-enabled prosecution service.

CAAP-D works well with its internal and external partners.

Off duty criminal allegations against the police

Criminal allegations against the police while they are off duty are managed by COPFS in a way which is more akin to the process for managing allegations of criminality against any member of the public.

The definition of on and off duty criminal allegations against the police requires clarification. Of the 40 off duty criminal complaints we reviewed, a quarter should have been subject to the process for on duty criminal complaints.

Oversight of off duty criminal complaints could be strengthened.

The current, informal process for managing off duty criminal complaints is reasonable, but there is a need to ensure it is followed in every case and that a broader range of staff are aware of it.



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