Scottish Government announces plans to strengthen police complaints system

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The Scottish Government and Lord Advocate have announced plans for “bold reform” in order to strengthen the police complaints system and reach “gold standard”.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf and Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC published their response to former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini’s 490-page independent report on complaints handling, investigations and misconduct issues.

It states the Scottish Government and Crown Office accept the majority of her 81 recommendations for reform.

Among the recommendations were increasing the powers of the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc).

The Justice Secretary and Lord Advocate said they view these recommendations “favourably” and will consider the proposals put forward for enhancing the role of Pirc by providing additional statutory powers.

Pleased to confirm to @SP_Justice we will accept majority of Dame Elish’s recommendations. There are a number we have to work through to ensure there are not unintended adverse consequences. We will (if re-elected) bring forward a Bill to enact changes requiring legislation. https://t.co/dPyPvvaFeM
— Humza Yousaf (@HumzaYousaf) February 5, 2021

In a letter to the Justice Committee, they commit to establishing a governance framework to oversee, direct and report on progress in taking forward the recommendations, headed by a ministerial group for police complaints and investigations which will meet and report publicly and to the Scottish Parliament three times a year.

They also commit to introducing a single bill in the next parliamentary session, subject to the outcome of the election, to make the necessary legislative changes, supported by regulations where necessary.

Mr Yousaf said: “Scotland is well-served by its police service and the public can be confident that the systems for handling police complaints, investigations of serious incidents and misconduct are fundamentally sound while recognising the importance of bold reform.

“While public confidence in policing is high, we must take every opportunity to sustain and build on that. It is essential that when things go wrong, the police are held to account, lessons are learned and improvements made. The principle of policing by consent, so central to our justice system, is built on this accountability.

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“We continue to build on successful improvement work already undertaken since publication of Dame Elish’s preliminary report in June 2019. Significant steps have already been taken by Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc) and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).

“I do not underestimate the scale of the task ahead. These are complex issues, involving multiple organisations, additional costs, time and, in many cases, legislative changes – but the improvements will ensure the system is fair, roles and responsibilities are clear, there is transparency, openness and proportionality and the upholding of fundamental human rights. I am committed to delivering these improvements in partnership.”

In the letter, they say they are confident that Scotland has good systems for the handling of police complaints, investigations and misconduct but “our aim is to have the gold standard”, and that Dame Elish’s report provides the “foundation and a roadmap to get us there”.

James Wolffe QC

Mr Wolffe said: “Dame Elish’s comprehensive and detailed investigation has identified several areas requiring reform or improvement.

“Since the publication of her preliminary report in June 2019, a number of procedures relating to the criminal allegations against the police division of COPFS have already been revised.

“COPFS will work with others as we continue to improve how the justice system as a whole responds to these issues.”

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