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Expanded investigation remit "raises the bar": PCCS

23 September 2013

The change in functions of the Police Complaints Commissioner for Scotland to become the Police Investigations & Review Commissioner is a “significant change for Scotland that raises the bar in how we hold the police to account”, according to the Commissioner, Professor John McNeill, in his latest annual report.

Covering the 12 months to 31 March 2013, the point at which his new remit came into being, the report discloses a 27% increase to 174 in the number of applications accepted from members of the public, seeking a review of the way the police had handled their complaint.

During the year, Professor McNeill published 143 reports, or complaint handling reviews, involving 405 individual complaints, 58% of which were found to have been handled to a reasonable standard by the police. Where some deficiency is found, the Commissioner can make recommendations that can include an apology to the member of the public or that further work is undertaken by the police.

Having introduced post-review monitoring forms for police and members of the public to provide feedback on their experience of the review process, the Commissioner says the response rate
from both the police and the public "has been disappointingly low at 20%". He continues to seek better ways to encourage service users to submit feedback on his office's work.

In his report the Commissioner includes a complaint about Northern Constabulary to illustrate how a single complaint can indicate a larger issue and how his reports can change police practices. This review uncovered a discrepancy between practice within Northern Constabulary where the use of handcuffs was “standard procedure” for anyone taken into custody, and the Scottish Police Service Students Training Manual, which stated that no police force adopts such a policy. As a result Northern Constabulary amended its internal guidance on the use of handcuffs.

The Commissioner's expanded role goes with the new single police service for Scotland, as police forces can no longer ask an external force to step in where an independent invedtigation is required. He can now undertake independent investigations under the direction of Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service or at the request of the Chief Constable or the Scottish Police Authority.

Professor McNeill comments: “The prospect of a single police service in Scotland threw up a number of challenges for me during the year around ensuring that I would have a team that was operationally ready to carry out independent and effective investigations from 1 April. I am pleased to be able to report that this was achieved, as the addition of an independent investigative function to my remit marks a significant change for Scotland and raises the bar in how we hold the police to account.”

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