Theme 3 - Governance & Accountability
Under this theme, we intend to cover recommendations relating to the governance and accountability of the PIRC; some of the proposals relating to the SPA's Complaints and Conduct Committee's scrutiny of performance; and the role of Local Scrutiny Committees in considering complaints handling within local areas. By way of context, we provide an outline of work underway to strengthen governance within the wider policing landscape.
We established the Policing Governance Roundtable to explore and address issues raised by stakeholders around the governance and accountability of policing in Scotland, to identify where improvements and refinements are required and to take forward action, either collectively or individually, to address any issues identified.
Chaired by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, membership includes Audit Scotland, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority, the Chief Constable, and the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner. The Roundtable provides an important forum to discuss continuous improvement in the system and to consider collective and individual actions where necessary. The Roundtable's current focus includes the identification of actions to be taken to address possible issues arising.
The Roundtable has also discussed ways of reaching beyond the membership of the group, being clear that, in undertaking its work, the Roundtable should have due regard to others with an interest in the policing of Scotland. There is unanimous agreement that engagement with civic society is essential however; there is also awareness of a range of already existing fora that would be important to assist in reaching out to groups. For example, the work of the Independent Advisory Group, (chaired by John Scott QC and set up to review Police Scotland's use of new temporary police powers to tackle coronavirus), has created further opportunities for regular discussions with a range of interests, specifically around governance issues. The Roundtable will meet three times throughout 2021, with any identified actions progressed more quickly if necessary.
In its Post Legislative Review, the Justice Committee raised the issue of the accountability of the PIRC and in both Reports, Dame Elish provides a detailed assessment, recommending changes to PIRC, setting out a rationale for moving from the current governance and accountability structure. We will consider all the options to ensure the PIRC is adequately supported to carry out its role, including options to enhance the current governance and accountability model. Any changes to the current governance and accountability structure would need to be necessary and proportionate.
We are committed to ensuring that PIRC is adequately supported and resourced to be able to continue to deliver its functions, both at present and in the future as PIRC take on any additional suite of statutory powers, as recommended within the Reports.
Meantime, the Commissioner is looking at current staffing structures, to consider changes that could be made by PIRC as an employer that would not require changes to legislation. In addition, she has appointed new members and a Chair to its Audit and Accountability Committee.
For the recommendations that would require legislation, we will engage with others as necessary ahead of developing proposals for any amendments to current legislation with regards to the governance and accountability of the PIRC (Final Report recommendations 34 and 35; Preliminary Report recommendation 21).
Scrutiny of complaint handling performance
Scrutiny of performance is an essential element of good governance and accountability, to provide assurance that lead organisations are delivering their statutory functions and that systems and processes are working effectively. In her Final Report, Dame Elish makes a number of recommendations for improvement of complaint handling performance, including a recommendation that the PIRC publish its performance against targets for its Complaint Handling Reviews (Final Report recommendation 45). While this is an operational matter for the PIRC we can confirm that performance against targets are already published within the PIRC annual report, so we consider this recommendation to be complete.
More broadly, there are a number of recommendations relating to Police Scotland's reporting of performance in complaint handling and the SPA's scrutiny of that performance through its Complaints and Conduct Committee. These too are operational matters for Police Scotland and the SPA and we welcome their commitment to exploring options to improve scrutiny of performance and confirmation that this joint working will involve the PIRC too (Final Report recommendations 29, 59, 78 and 79).
Local Scrutiny Committees
Under the 2012 Act, local authorities were given powers to hold Police Scotland Local Commanders to account for the policing within their local communities. This already includes a power to request information on complaints in their local areas. The Scottish Government acknowledges the importance of local accountability and would welcome any steps to strengthen it. This is something to be considered by the local scrutiny committees in the first instance and is due to be discussed at the next COSLA Police Scrutiny Conveners' Forum on 4 March 2021. We look forward to receiving feedback from this meeting.
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