Review of police complaints handling: parliamentary statement

Review of Complaints Handling, Investigations and Misconduct Issues in Relation to Policing will assess the current police structures and processes.

Thank you Presiding Officer.

When I addressed the Chamber in November, on the leadership and performance of policing, I set out my intention to reflect on the operation of police complaints and conduct with key partners. As I said then, I am open to considering whether there is scope for further improvement.

It is of the utmost importance to me and the public that parliamentary confidence in the police is high – and independently justifiably so – but equally that our systems provide suitable protection for the vast majority of police officers and staff who work hard to keep us safe.

Over recent months, I have listened to a range of different perspectives from those directly involved. It is clear to me that complex issues have emerged in relation to the existing framework, operational responsibilities and procedures that need to be looked at afresh.

Five years on from the creation of Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority and the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner, the time is right to look at how the structures and processes are working.

To do that effectively will require an independent and authoritative assessment and that is why I, together with the Lord Advocate, have commissioned Dame Elish Angiolini QC to take this work forward.

I am delighted that Dame Elish has agreed to lead that Review. As members will be aware, she is exceptionally well qualified to scrutinise these issues, as a former Procurator Fiscal, Solicitor General and Lord Advocate.

Her outstanding record of public service in Scotland is well known, having chaired the Commission on Women Offenders, as well as the Mortonhall Crematorium Investigation for the City of Edinburgh Council and National Cremations Investigation for the Scottish Government.

More recently, she led the independent Review into Serious Incidents and Deaths in Police Custody in England and Wales for the UK Government.

Under Dame Elish's leadership, the Review of Complaints Handling, Investigations and Misconduct Issues in Relation to Policing will bring independent scrutiny to the framework and processes for handling complaints against the police and investigating serious incidents and alleged misconduct.

As well as assessing the current framework, the Review will report on the effectiveness of structures, operational responsibilities and processes. It will also make recommendations for improvements to ensure the system is fair, transparent, accountable and proportionate, in order to strengthen public confidence in policing in Scotland.

The Review will consist of two phases:

  • The first phase will include a consideration of current procedures and guidance to identify areas for immediate improvement;
  • The second phase will include a wider assessment of the frameworks and practice in relation to complaints handling, investigations and misconduct issues. It will cover the work of the Police and Investigations Review Commissioner, the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland.

The Review will take evidence from a broad range of stakeholders, including the Scottish Police Federation, the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, the Scottish Chief Police Officers Staff Association, Unison, Unite, as well as the PIRC, SPA, Police Scotland and the Crown Office. Dame Elish may also wish to speak with those who have had experience of the current system to hear their views and understand where further improvement could be made.

Recommendations in the final report should take into account human rights considerations, as well as seeking to identify longer term improvements.

Presiding Officer, I am aware that the Justice Committee has invited evidence as part of its post-legislative scrutiny of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012. I welcome this scrutiny of the landmark legislation that enabled the creation of single police and fire services.

I am also aware that evidence has been submitted on the provisions within the Act that underpin our current system of police conduct, complaints and investigations. Those provisions were intended to strengthen the governance, accountability and scrutiny arrangements for policing and created a clear statutory framework for independent review and investigation.

It is only right that the Committee considers this evidence as part of its broader scrutiny of the Act and I look forward to seeing the outcomes of that process.

However, as the Cabinet Secretary with responsibility for the overall framework for dealing with police complaints and conduct issues in Scotland, which includes other primary and secondary legislation, I have a duty to ensure that the whole system is working well. And the Lord Advocate has an independent interest, as head of the system for the investigation and prosecution of crime in Scotland.

The arrangements for complaints handling, investigations and misconduct issues in relation to policing, have seen a period of intense parliamentary, media and public scrutiny.

It is a framework that must ultimately build public confidence in policing and the events of recent months have raised questions about the way the system works and whether it could be improved.

It is only right that I listen to those questions and act decisively to address them, which is why the Lord Advocate and I have commissioned this Review.

The key outcomes of the Review will be to ensure that:

  • roles and responsibilities at all levels are clear;
  • there are agreed protocols that balance transparency with an appropriate level of confidentiality; and
  • the framework and processes are fair, transparent, accountable and proportionate, upholding fundamental human rights.

Fairness. Transparency. Accountability. Proportionality. These are the guiding principles of the Review and go to the very heart of what any system, which holds public services to account, should deliver.

The commitment to upholding fundamental human rights is embedded in police training, in the oath taken by officers and is central to Police Scotland's Professional Ethics and Values. This is to ensure that policing operations respect the human rights of all people and officers, who in turn should have their rights respected. This must also be central to the process for handling police complaints, conduct issues and investigations.

It is vital that the police are held to account when things go wrong. Policing by consent depends upon that accountability. And it is essential that lessons are learned and improvements made to prevent mistakes, bad practice - and criminality - recurring in the future.

In order to do that effectively, our systems must treat all parties fairly and justly if they are to earn the trust and respect of those involved and of the wider public.

Let me also be clear about what the Review will not do. It will not consider the role of the Lord Advocate in investigating criminal complaints against the police. Nor will it look at the role of HMICS in scrutinising the state, effectiveness and efficiency of Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority.

It is also important to emphasise that the Review will not re-examine specific cases or review specific decisions, although they may provide evidence for an overall assessment of the efficacy of current systems and processes.

There are a number of high profile criminal investigations relating to serious incidents involving the police, currently underway. Those investigations are a matter for the Lord Advocate and it would be wrong to suggest that this Review should examine those cases – or pre-empt the investigation process.

Presiding Officer, I am confident that this Review, under the authoritative leadership of Dame Elish Angiolini will bring fresh scrutiny to the framework and structures we established 5 years ago, to ensure they are robust and true to the principles that I have outlined.

It is essential that our systems for complaints handling, investigations and misconduct issues in relation to policing are fair, transparent, and accountable, respecting the rights of all those involved. Systems that police officers, staff and the public can have confidence in.

Let me finish, by putting on record my thanks and appreciation for the work of Police Scotland, the SPA, the PIRC, HMICS and the Crown Office, commending all those who work to keep our communities safe.

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