Advisory group on stop and search chaired by John Scott QC to be established

John Scott QC

A new independent advisory group, chaired by solicitor advocate John Scott QC, is to be established to examine the use of stop and search powers in Scotland.

The new Stop And Search Advisory Group has been established after Police Scotland issued a report confirming that from now on there will be a presumption against consensual – or non-statutory – stop and search for all age groups.

The police report also confirms that children under 12 will not be subject to consensual stop and search.

The new independent advisory group will be asked to make recommendations to Scottish ministers, including:

  • whether the permanent presumption against consensual stop and search for all ages goes far enough;
  • whether, further to that, there should be an absolute cessation of the practice;
  • whether any additional steps require to be taken, including any consequent legislation or change in practice that might be necessary; and
  • to develop a draft Code of Practice that will underpin the use of stop and search in Scotland.

The announcement was made by justice secretary Michael Matheson in response to two reports published on stop and search in Scotland – a reviewby Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) and the Police Scotland review of its own practices.

The advisory group, which will have a broad membership, will make recommendations for Scottish ministers to consider by August 2015.

This timescale would allow any possible legislative changes to be included as part of proposals for the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill.

Mr Matheson said: “I welcome the announcement by Police Scotland a presumption against consensual stop and searches for all age groups and have completely ended the practice involving children under 12.

“I also welcome the fact that they will be implementing the HMICS recommendations in full, in conjunction with the SPA and other partners.

“Stop and search can be a valuable tool in combating crime – but we must get the balance right between protecting the public and the rights of the individual.

“As such, it is vital that stop and search powers are used appropriately, and we need to make some key decisions on how such powers should be used going forward. We need a clear, consistent approach which, as a society, we can all be agreed upon.

“That is why I have today announced the formation of a new independent Advisory Group chaired by John Scott QC.

“John is highly respected and has a strong background in human rights. He will be joined by representatives from key organisations with an interest in this issue who will consider the significant public debate there has been around this issue, carry out a detailed examination of the issues, and make recommendations by August 2015.

“If legislative changes are required, we will not hesitate and we will bring forward proposals which can be considered by Parliament as part of our new Criminal Justice Bill.”

Stop and search advisory group chair John Scott QC, who is alsochairman of Howard League Scotland, said: “The last year has seen considerable publicity regarding ‘stop and search’ by police officers.

“Subsequent scrutiny has revealed considerable uncertainty and confusion on the part of the public, and even the police, as to when stop/search is justified and how it should be done when it is considered necessary.

“Questions arise about the use of the considerable powers already available to the police and the circumstances, if any, in which it is appropriate to carry out “consensual” stop/searches.

“This is an area in which it is important to strike a balance between, on the one hand, allowing the police to continue to address crime in all its aspects, including prevention and deterrence, and, on the other, the right of the public, including our young people, to go about their daily lives untroubled by unjustified police activity.

“Striking a proper balance is not possible while confusion continues. I welcome the invitation of the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to chair this advisory group and hope to assist in providing some clarity in this important area, in order that our Parliament can set the appropriate limits for police activity, leaving the police to concentrate on operational matters within more clearly defined boundaries.”

The Stop and Search Advisory Group will contain members from a range of key organisations including those representing human rights, children’s groups and policing.

The group will work in tandem with organisations such as the Scottish Police Federation, the Scottish Human Rights Commission, Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, Victim Support Scotland, Violence Reduction Unit, COSLA, Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration,Scottish Community Safety Network, National Independent Strategic Advisory Group, the Mental Welfare Commission and the Scottish Institute for Policing Research.