Letter of Rights - operational delivery working group minutes: May 2021

Minutes of the Operational Delivery Working Group meeting held on 4 May 2021.


Attendees and apologies

  • Scottish Government – Access to Justice Team
  • Scottish Government – Police Complaints Team
  • Scottish Government – Police Powers Team
  • Scottish Government – Victims and Witnesses Team
  • Police Scotland
  • Law Society of Scotland
  • Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service
  • Faculty of Advocates
  • Public Defence Solicitor’s Office

Items and actions

Welcome, Terms of Reference for the Operational Delivery Group and overview of the Letter of Rights for Scotland Working Group structure

The Chair welcomed members to the group, provided an overview of the Letter of Rights Working Group structure, updated members on the main discussion points that arose from the Accessibility Delivery Group meeting on 29 April and members confirmed that there were no issues with the Terms of Reference for the group.

Discussion on how the current versions of the Letter of Rights work in practice

Some concerns were raised as to the use of the easy read Letter and the general take up of rights such as the right to legal representation which are explained in the Letter. It was felt that the Letter should be viewed as a tool for delivering access to important rights to individuals who find themselves in custody and as such consideration needs to be given to improving take up of these rights alongside considering the content of the Letters themselves.

It was highlighted that those  in police custody may have a poorer level of understanding than they would normally and that some individuals will be unable to understand their rights through issues such as intoxication.

There was some discussion on the number of versions of the Letter that would be appropriate and the formats in which they would be delivered. Differing views were expressed on whether there should be one easy read and one children and young people’s version of the Letter or one version that would be provided to all individuals in police custody. It was suggested that information about key rights could be placed on the walls of police cells, however this may be difficult due to safeguarding requirements.

It was highlighted that the reform process should not focus on simply amending the current versions of the Letter but should ‘go back to the drawing board’ and start by considering the overall purpose of the Letter and the key information that needs to be included before looking at the most effective formats to present that information.

The idea of presenting the information contained in the Letter in a video format was then discussed and the group was advised that work was being undertaken by Police Scotland regarding this. The group agreed that a video format could be a valuable way of imparting information to individuals, could be sent to other people involved in the custody process such as social workers and could be presented in schools as part of a drive to increase knowledge of the custody process and the rights contained in the Letter amongst the general population.

Questions were raised around the way an individual’s ability to understand the information that they are provided with is assessed and the issue of individuals who will state that they understand their rights when they do not. The group was advised that it is for the Custody Sergeant to make a judgement as to whether an individual is able to understand their rights and that this is often done in conjunction with medical staff who can provide clinical input.  

The role of appropriate adults in the process was also discussed. The group agreed that the role of an appropriate adult is to assist in communication and facilitate understanding between police and the individual in custody and they should not be expected to provide advice related to the rights contained in the Letter.

Issues around the information provided to an appropriate adult ahead of their attendance at a police station was also discussed and it was recognised that there is a requirement for consistency across Scotland on the level of information that is provided to appropriate adults ahead of police station attendance.

Next steps

The Chair sought agreement for high level meeting minutes to be published on an external SG web page and summarised the next steps for the group.  

The Chair also asked group members to consider the key information that should be included in the Letter and the best formats for that to be delivered in.

AOB

No other business was raised.

Action points

SG to write up meeting minutes and circulate to the group.

SG to circulate minutes of the Accessibility Delivery Group to members.

SG to consider a project plan and timeline that can be circulated to group members for comment.

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