HMICS report proposes statutory code for stop and search   

Derek Penman
Derek Penman

A police watchdog has said there is “merit” in considering a statutory code of practice for Police Scotland’s stop and search policy after it expressed a lack of confidence in the single force’s recorded figures.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) conducted an audit and assurance review to assess the state, efficiency and effectiveness of the processes for recording stop and search activity within Police Scotland and the associated procedures for supervision, audit and governance.

It also examined the impact of the performance framework and targets in relation to stop and search activity.

While the majority of searches in Scotland are consensual, HMICS found significant variations in the application of this tactic in Scotland and that it had become standard practice in some divisions.

The report states: “We believe there is merit in considering a statutory code of practice for stop and search in Scotland.

“This would establish clear principles and safeguards for the public in relation to stop and search and potentially provide statutory safeguards around consensual stop and search (should this practice continue).

“We believe that the introduction of a code of practice would be beneficial particularly to provide guidance in relation to operational practice.”

Derek Penman, HM inspector of constabulary, added: “We have suggested a way forward that should result in significant reductions in consensual stop and search across Scotland while at the same time building a reliable evidence base to allow a more informed view on the future need for consensual stop and search.

“We have recommended a move towards legislative stop and search which combined with improvements in recording practices, training, supervision and audit, should give communities across Scotland more confidence in the use of stop and search.

“We believe the development of a statutory Code of Practice would establish clearly understood principles and safeguards for the public and would be particularly beneficial in providing clear and transparent guidance on the conduct of searches.

“Due to the lack of guidance and processes we do not have confidence in the stop and search data currently held by Police Scotland.

“It should not be relied upon to make informed decisions about future policy and practice in Scotland until an accurate baseline has been established.”

The report makes 23 recommendations, among them definitive guidance on what constitutes stop and search and what information may be recorded.

It also recommends that Police Scotland should emphasise the rationale for recording the “self-defined ethnicity of those who are stopped and searched and provide guidance.”

Recommendation 16 states the single force should seek legal opinion on the question whether section 61 of the Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Act 1997 “can be interpreted to show an implied power of search for alcohol from young people under the age of 18 and adults in specific circumstances.”

HMICS also undertook an audit of searches of children aged 11 or under.

The report states: “The communication of the change in policy to cease searching children aged 11 or under could have been more effective.

“The time between the announcement of the change to policy and its implementation was only five days.

“This did not give sufficient development time to update IT systems and other key processes.

“We found that Police Scotland conducted a total of 83 consensual searches of children aged 11 or under, that were out with its policy, between June 23 to December 31 2014.”

Detective chief constable Rose Fitzpatrick said: “We acknowledge and will implement in full the recommendations made by HMICS today, many of which are entirely consistent with the proposals made by the Chief Constable in his report to the Cabinet Secretary.”

Read the report here: Audit and Assurance Review of Stop and Search - Phase 1


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