Police complaints, investigations and misconduct - legislation: consultation

The aim of the consultation is to seek views on legislative proposals with a view to delivering new laws that improve transparency and further strengthen public confidence in policing following Dame Elish Angiolini's review into Police Complaints Handling, Investigations and Misconduct issues.

Further information


Advisory List

The Advisory List in England and Wales is a vetting tool for policing employers which contains information about individuals who have resigned or retired during an investigation into a matter that could have resulted in their dismissal, or who leave before such an allegation comes to light

Article 2

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) Article 2 protects individuals' right to life, and also requires parties to positively assist the state in conducting thorough and effective investigations

Article 3

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) Article 3 is about prohibition of torture - inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

Article 5

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) Article 5 is about unlawful detention

Article 6

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) Article 6 is about the right to a fair hearing including the right of a suspect to remain silent

Barred List

The Barred List in England and Wales is maintained by the College of Policing. The publicly available version of the Barred list is a list of police officers and special constables who have been dismissed for conduct matters. The list is used as a vetting tool and prevents officers from being appointed by another police service, force or other policing body.


Police Scotland's complaints and conduct database

Chief Constable

The most senior police officer in Scotland. The Chief Constable has overall command and responsibility for the Police Service of Scotland.

Code of Ethics

The Code of Ethics for Policing in Scotland sets out the standards of those who contribute to policing in Scotland


A consultation lets the public and stakeholders share their opinions on a proposed area of work.


A police officer of any rank

Constable's declaration

An oath police officers take upon joining the service. The text of the constable's declaration can be viewed online.

Federated ranks

Officers of the rank from constable to chief inspector, who are represented by the Scottish Police Federation

Final report

The final report by Dame Elish Angiolini: Independent Review of Complaints Handling, Investigations and Misconduct Issues in Relation to Policing

Financially means-tested

The person's ability to pay the costs of a service themselves is assessed before a decision is made as to whether they qualify for assistance.

Gross misconduct

A breach of the Standards of Professional Behaviour which is so serious that dismissal would be justified

In statute

In law passed by a legislative body

Incontrovertible evidence

Evidence or facts which are absolutely certain and cannot be shown to be wrong

Lord President

The Lord President chairs the Board of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and is the senior judge in Scotland and the head of the judiciary. The current Lord President is Lord Carloway, appointed in 2015.

Malicious complaint

A malicious complaint is made with the intention of causing harm


Conduct which amounts to a breach of the Standards of Professional Behaviour (but does not, unless the context otherwise requires, include gross misconduct). This means that misconduct is an action (or failure to act) severe enough to be considered a breach of standards, but is unlikely to warrant dismissal.

Misconduct hearing panel

The panel that considers misconduct and gross misconduct allegations against senior officers, unless otherwise stated

Misconduct meeting

The panel that considers misconduct allegations against non-senior officers

Non-senior police officer

Any constable holding a rank below assistant chief constable

Preliminary Angiolini report

Dame Elish Angiolini's preliminary report: Independent Review of Complaints Handling, Investigations and Misconduct Issues in Relation to Policing

Professional Standards Department

The Professional Standards Department of Police Scotland has responsibility for ensuring that officers across Police Scotland's Police force maintain a high quality of policing and provides a good service to the public and its staff.

Relevant body / organisation

The organisation responsible for the issues being described

Senior officer

Any constable holding rank of chief constable, Deputy chief constable or assistant chief constable

Special constable

Special constables are part-time, voluntary officers with the same powers as regular police officers

Staff Association

Statutory Staff Associations are in place to represent the interests of their members. The Scottish Police Federation is the largest staff association for police officers in Scotland. Police staff may join a trade union. There are also 'Diversity Staff Associations' such as SEMPER which are in place to provide support, advice and information to Police Officers and Staff, and these are sometimes also referred to as staff associations. In this document, staff association refers to Statutory Staff Associations.

Standards of Professional Behaviour

The expectations set on Scottish officers, whether on or off duty. These standards are set out in law in the conduct regulations.

The 2006 Act

Police, Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2006

The 2012 Act

Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012

Vulnerable witness

The definition under the Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2004 (Section 11) in civil proceedings can be summarised as: a child under 18, or an adult where there is a significant risk that the quality of the evidence to be given by the person will be diminished by reason of a mental disorder (as defined under section 328 of the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003) or fear or distress in connection with giving evidence. There are a number of factors which must be taken into account when considering if a person is a vulnerable witness under this definition, including the nature of the evidence they may give, the circumstances, their relationship with anyone party to the proceedings, behaviour towards them by people party to the proceedings (or their associates), and other matters regarding the witnesses' background.


When a worker reports certain types of wrongdoing which is in the public interest. A person considered a whistle-blower is protected by law. Further details can be found on UK Government's website.


Acas Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service

ACC Assistant Chief Constable

CAAP-D Criminal Allegations Against [the] Police Division

COPFS Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service

DCC Deputy Chief Constable

DSI Deaths and Serious Incidents

ECHR European Convention on Human Rights

FAI Fatal Accident Inquiry

HMICS Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary for Scotland

IOPC Independent Office for Police Conduct (England and Wales)

MoU Memorandum of Understanding

PIRC Police Investigations and Review Commissioner

PONI Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland

PSD Professional Standards Division (of Police Scotland)

PSNI Police Service of Northern Ireland

SLAB Scottish Legal Aid Board

SPA Scottish Police Authority

Background on key organisations

Police Scotland

Police Scotland is responsible for policing in Scotland. The Chief Constable (CC) is responsible for all aspects of policing in Scotland and is answerable to the Scottish Police Authority (SPA). The country is divided geographically into 3 regions – North, East and West, each headed by an Assistant Chief Constable (ACC) with territorial responsibilities, while the other 6 ACCs have functional responsibilities. There are 13 Divisions, each covering one or more local authority areas and headed by a Chief Superintendent, though there are many more Chief Superintendents than the 13 who are divisional commanders.

The Command Structure is as follows:

  • Chief Constable
  • Deputy Chief Constable
  • Assistant Chief Constable
  • Chief Superintendent
  • Superintendent
  • Chief Inspector
  • Inspector
  • Sergeant
  • Constable

The Scottish Police Authority (SPA)

The SPA employs Police Scotland's staff. The SPA and other public bodies are often described as operating at "arm's length" from government. This means that they have a significant degree of independence in decision-making within their statutory functions, but operate within a policy framework set by Ministers and are accountable to Ministers and Parliament for the exercise of their functions. The SPA is led by a Chair and a Board who are appointed by Ministers through a public appointments process. Appointments to the Board are regulated by the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland.

The functions of the SPA are to:

  • maintain Police Scotland
  • promote the policing principles
  • promote and support continuous improvement in the policing of Scotland
  • hold the Chief Constable to account

In relation to complaints, the SPA has specific functions under the Police, Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2006 and the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012. It must deal with:

  • complaints against the Authority and its staff
  • complaints about senior officers of Police Scotland (those of the rank of Chief Constable, Deputy Chief Constable and Assistant Chief Constable)
  • The SPA must keep itself informed of the manner in which Police Scotland deals with relevant complaints, and be satisfied that Police Scotland has suitable arrangements in place.

The SPA's Complaints and Conduct Committee provides assurance that the Authority has suitable arrangements in place for the handling of complaints about the SPA, its staff and senior officers of Police Scotland and monitors the handling of complaints by the Chief Constable.

Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC)

The organisation is led by a single Commissioner, often referred to as "the PIRC". The functions of the PIRC are:

  • to ensure the SPA and the Chief Constable have in place suitable arrangements for the handling of complaints
  • to examine the handling of complaints and the reconsideration of such complaints
  • to investigate, where directed to do so by the appropriate prosecutor, any circumstances in which there is an indication that a person serving with the police may have committed a crime, or the circumstances of any death involving a person serving with the police
  • determine whether to investigate, where requested to do so by the authority or the Chief Constable, certain serious incidents involving the police
  • investigate other matters relating to the SPA or the police service where the Commissioner considers that it would be in the public interest to do so

The PIRC also investigates allegations of misconduct by senior officers at the rank of Assistant Chief Constable and above.


Email: policingconsultation2022@gov.scot

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