Angiolini review a ‘devastating indictment’ of police complaints system

Angiolini review a ‘devastating indictment’ of police complaints system

Dame Elish Angiolini QC

A new report has made 81 recommendations for improving police complaints handling, investigations and misconduct issues, having identified many poor practices.

The report, produced following an independent review jointly commissioned in June 2018 and undertaken by Dame Elish Angiolini QC, assessed the current police framework and processes.

It recommends expanding the role of the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC) and highlights issues relating to discrimination and their impact on public confidence in Police Scotland.

Among other things it found that:

  • The Scottish Police Authority “needs to be strengthened” as an organisation, and that its duty to investigate senior officers is not clear enough. To remove “perception of familiarity”, their statutory duty for preliminary assessments should be transferred to PIRC;
  • Complaints against senior officers should be considered independently, after being investigated by the PIRC. The SPA should “have no substantive role in senior officer misconduct hearings”;
  • Gross misconduct hearings for all ranks should have oversight by an independent legally qualified person and mechanisms should be put into place through primary legislation to allow investigations to conclude even after an officer has retired; the SPA’s Complaints and Conduct Committee are “overly cautious” in the publication of their minutes
  • “attitudes have not changed as much as they should have” since the Macpherson report of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. The report states that “the experiences of some recruits had caused them to leave the profession, often within three to five years.” and most officers consulted as part of this review would not recommend a career in Police Scotland.
  • Mental health has significant workload implications for Police Scotland. The report recommends a HMICS Review of the efficiency and effectiveness of the whole‑system approach to mental health

Scottish Liberal Democrats justice spokesman Liam McArthur MSP said: “This report shows there is a dearth of independence and accountability within policing in Scotland. Dame Elish recommends a whole-scale shift away from the cosy arrangements that have existed at the top of Scottish policing.

“The SNP’s centralising agenda concentrated power in very few hands. In the past, that led to sometimes serious not being dealt with appropriately.

“That does nothing for accountability, transparency or public confidence. It also does a disservice to the thousands of officers and staff who work hard every day to keep our communities safe.”

Aamer Anwar, solicitor for the family of Sheku Bayoh, who died in police custody, welcomed the review.

He said: “Nobody has escaped criticism as the former Lord Advocate delivers a devastating indictment of a police complaints system not fit for purpose.

“It will not make easy reading for Police Scotland’s senior executives, who have tried to introduce transparency and accountability, but the reality on the ground is entirely different.

“The Sheku Bayoh family urge the Scottish government to commit to recommendations of this review. There must be legislative change.”

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “We have to recognise that things do at times go wrong, sometimes mistakenly or sometimes deliberately. It is in the interests of everyone in the police family, as well as the wider public, that we ensure the systems for investigating complaints or other issues of concern are as robust and transparent as possible.

“Those who raise legitimate concerns and those who are subject to investigations must always be treated in a fair and proportionate manner, helping to enhance accountability and strengthen public confidence in policing.”

The Lord Advocate, James Wolffe QC, said: “I would like to thank Dame Elish Angiolini for her thorough and substantial piece of work examining the system of complaints against the police. It was clear when commissioning this work that many issues would be raised and given the scale of the report there is much for the justice sector as whole to consider.

“The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal will take time to consider the recommendations made in relation to its work and officials from COPFS will discuss any implications with relevant justice sector organisations.”

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