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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 25 November 2020

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Covid-19 (Roll-out of Testing Programme), Policing (Complaints Handling, Investigations and Misconduct Issues) (Independent Review), Legal Advice (Publication), Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Inverclyde Royal Hospital (Intensive Care Provision)


Policing (Complaints Handling, Investigations and Misconduct Issues) (Independent Review)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-22450, in the name of Liam Kerr, on the independent review of complaints handling, investigations and misconduct issues in relation to policing. I ask those who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons.


Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

I thank Dame Elish Angiolini for her “Independent Review of Complaints Handling, Investigations and Misconduct Issues in Relation to Policing”. It is a sobering and, at times, shocking read. It tells us this: the Scottish National Party’s system of police complaints and governance has been broken since inception.

Dame Elish’s forensic analysis has been described as a “watershed moment” for policing in Scotland, and fixing the SNP’s apparatus is vital in order that we can repair and enhance public confidence. However, the SNP got the report, issued a bland press release, then disappeared, which is why the Scottish Conservatives have called for this debate in Opposition time.

The debate is also about supporting and protecting the thousands of police officers to whom we all owe an immense debt of gratitude. Those men and women selflessly keep us safe every day, and nothing that will be said by Conservative members—or, I am sure, by members from all across the chamber—will question their commitment, ability or professionalism. They deserve to know that the complaints process is efficient, transparent, proportionate and fair.

Yesterday, Douglas Ross and I met a group of women from different parts of our policing community. They included a former constable, a firearms officer, a senior officer and a former Scottish Police Authority board member. They had all experienced injustice that was, thanks to the structures that were implemented in a rush by the SNP, the starting point for something worse. When they engaged with the complaints process, they were let down. Not only were careers ruined, but some of those people suffered ill health and life-changing financial loss.

Karen Harper spent 22 years as a constable in Lanarkshire and Dumfriesshire before being forced to retire through ill health. Later, she won her sex discrimination claim. Ms Harper describes the report as an

“exoneration for myself and many other officers betrayed by the fundamentally unfair system”.

What angers Ms Harper most is that the corrosive saga that has consumed her life for five long years could have been prevented at the outset, if only the system had been fair. She tried everything. In 2015, she even contacted the First Minister. She began by saying that writing was a “last resort”. However, all she got back was a brief and impersonal letter from a junior civil servant, which did not address any of the serious and specific issues that she had raised.

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice will, no doubt, remind me that it is not politicians’ place to meddle in processes or to influence public bodies in discharging their duties, but what happens when the systems that have been put in place to protect the public and police officers fail?

Since the creation of Police Scotland seven years ago, there has been a relentless flow of troubling revelations around the complaints process and governance. I spoke with Moi Ali, who is a former member of the Scottish Police Authority. Ms Ali resigned over concerns about lack of transparency, which was contrary to the public interest and good governance, and she spoke out—but nothing substantive has changed.

I also spoke with Angela Wilson, who is a former assistant chief constable in Tayside. She bemoaned the “deafening silence” from the Scottish Government on the report—and she was surely right to do so. Ms Wilson believes that major change is necessary for Scotland to achieve a diverse police service that truly reflects those whom it represents. How do we do that?

Dame Elish has made more than 100 recommendations in her preliminary and final reports. We do not have time today to give proper consideration to the relative merits of each recommendation, but we can, in this debate, focus on some of the most fundamental ones, including the need for the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner to be truly independent and to be given the power that it needs in order to become an effective watchdog. Dame Elish has also rightly stated that PIRC should no longer be answerable to ministers, but to the Scottish Parliament.

Dame Elish has recommended that the Scottish Police Authority be stripped of its power to investigate senior officers. She cited possible perception of bias due to their close working relationship.

Another recommendation is the need for serious misconduct proceedings to continue against officers even if they resign or retire. On that point, Dame Elish urges the Scottish Government to work with the United Kingdom Government to adopt good practice from England and Wales by extending barred and advisory lists to Police Scotland. Those lists are public databases of officers who have been dismissed for gross misconduct or who left while being investigated.

There are numerous other areas in which Dame Elish urges the Scottish Government to learn something about transparency from our friends in the rest of the UK. They include the holding of police gross misconduct hearings in public, as happens in other professions, and allowing for accelerated misconduct hearings in cases with apparently incontrovertible evidence of guilt.

Some of those things require amendment of existing legislation or new laws; others need structural, procedural or even cultural changes within Police Scotland, the SPA or PIRC. All of them need ministers to act.

What has been notable—worrying, even—has been the response so far from the SNP. Dame Elish’s 150,000-word 500-page publication was made public two weeks ago today, and was on ministerial desks prior to that. The SNP’s response has been a bland press release that contained little more than vague platitudes and completely lacked any firm commitment to act. Hiding behind the defence that the SNP commissioned the report in the first place is rendered meaningless by inaction. We need action.

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Humza Yousaf)

I have, of course, spoken to Police Scotland, the SPA, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and other key stakeholders about recommendations in the report. Has Liam Kerr spoken to any of the key partners at which the recommendations are aimed?

Liam Kerr

Yes, of course I have. In order to assist the cabinet secretary, I will provide a suggestion. It came from Moi Ali, but will be endorsed by many stakeholders. I am sure that he will be interested to hear it. Like many of the best ideas, it is very simple, and there is no excuse for not implementing it.

The suggestion is this. The Government should list all Dame Elish Angiolini’s recommendations on the Scottish Government’s website for the public to see and, alongside each, list whether or not the Scottish Government accepts the recommendation. If recommendations are not accepted, the Government should say why not. If a recommendation is accepted, let us have further columns that show which agency is responsible for progressing it and tracking it. That action tracker could inform the public. Adopting that suggestion would be inexpensive and would be a signal of sincerity about change.

I want to end on a comment that Karen Harper made to me. She said:

“Whether this report will make any difference to such deep-rooted institutional problems remains to be seen.”

I say to the cabinet secretary that doing nothing is not an option. Shirking responsibility is not an option. Sticking Dame Elish Angiolini’s report in a filing cabinet and forgetting about it is not an option.

The public deserve better. Our police officers, who are working under an SNP-created policing structure, deserve better. The time for action is now.

I move,

That the Parliament notes the report of the Independent Review of Complaints Handling, Investigations and Misconduct Issues in Relation to Policing, produced by Dame Elish Angiolini QC and submitted to Scottish Ministers on 11 November 2020, and calls on the Scottish Government to implement its proposals, in particular to expand the role of the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner without delay, and to work collaboratively with the UK Government to adopt good practice from England and Wales that is appropriate to Scotland, as set out in the report.


The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Humza Yousaf)

I thank the Conservatives for lodging the motion. Far from shirking responsibility, I think that we have an excellent opportunity to debate an excellent and substantial report, for which I thank Dame Elish Angiolini.

As Liam Kerr rightly pointed out, there are a number of substantial and significant recommendations in the report. I am sure that we will give many of the key recommendations a good airing during the debate. Nobody is hiding from them.

In that vein, I was pleased to note that this morning, the chief constable spoke at the SPA board meeting about reviewing equality matters. He said that

“Racism and discrimination of any kind is deplorable and unacceptable, and I utterly condemn it. It has no place in society, and no place in the police service of Scotland.”

He went on to accept and agree with Dame Elish’s recommendation that there be an independent review of equality matters. I was delighted to see that recommendation, and to see that the chief constable has moved at pace.

In that light, where the Government can move at pace, we absolutely will. It has been two weeks since the almost 500-page report with more than 80 recommendations was released. A substantial number of the recommendations—more than 30—are for the Scottish Government. There will be no dithering, nor will there be delay. Of course, we are in the midst of a global pandemic, but I absolutely assure Liam Kerr and Conservative members that I have spoken to the SPA, the Crown Office, Police Scotland and other key partners. I will take up conversation with the PIRC and will review some of the recommendations for that body very carefully.

The report was substantial, and we have to make sure that we take our partners on board on the journey. Across the chamber, we all have a shared endeavour—[Interruption.]—and we all want a complaints process that is fairer and more transparent, and which carries an even higher degree of public confidence.

Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

I will ask the cabinet secretary a simple question. Did he ask the Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans whether a statement could be made on the report, or is this the first time that he has thought to speak on the matter?

Humza Yousaf

The Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans and I have been discussing how difficult the timetable is in the run up to the end of the year; there is the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill, for example. The Government does not have parliamentary time—the Opposition has brought the debate forward. As my amendment, which I hope will get Labour’s support, indicates clearly and explicitly, I am more than happy to come back early in the new year to give an update on where the Government is on the matter. There is no dithering or delay. Of course, conversations must be had among partners. That is the understandable and sensible approach to take.

It is important that we take the public with us. The SPA has published the findings of its latest independent survey, which showed that 61 per cent of respondents rate their local police as excellent or good; there is a high degree of public confidence in the police. By enacting the recommendations in Dame Elish Angiolini’s report, I want to ensure that that percentage gets even higher.

There is no complacency on my part, or on the part of the Government. That can be evidenced by the fact that of the interim report in 2019’s 30 recommendations, approximately 21 have already been implemented, either fully or partly. The remainder have not been implemented because they require legislative change. I have always been up front and clear that it would be sensible to wait for the final report so that we can take legislation forward not in a piecemeal fashion, but in a more sensible way.

Liam Kerr

It is notable that the minister came straight to the chamber to give a ministerial statement on the interim report. The difference is interesting.

Will the cabinet secretary address my point about an action tracker, and will he implement that tracker?

Humza Yousaf

I was the minister who was in charge when the interim report was published in June 2019.

I do not think that the action tracker is a bad idea. I am more than happy to look at it, and do not see why I would not do that. Of course, the report and the recommendations are public; people can view them. However, if Liam Kerr thinks that an action tracker would help to focus their minds, I am more than happy to consider that. I see no reason why that should not be the case.

Given the extent of many of Dame Elish Angiolini’s recommendations, it is right that we take time to consider them. They are significant and will require legislative change. I have been having a discussion with the Justice Committee’s convener about how tight the timetable is for parliamentary business, which means that getting legislation passed will be incredibly difficult. However, it is important that we do not rush it.

I accept that there is a need and a desire for change in the complaints process; I associate myself with that desire. However, it is important that we get this right, and do not rush it.

I will conclude by saying that I recognise that every one of us across the chamber wants exactly the same thing: a complaints process that has the highest degree of public confidence, and which is seen to be absolutely independent, fair and transparent. My belief is that we have in place a good complaints process in place, but I do not want just a good complaints process. I want the very best; I want the gold standard. That is important for me as justice secretary, but it is more important—it is vital—for the public. As the chief constable regularly states, policing in Scotland does not derive its consent from Parliament or from ministerial direction, but from the public.

Therefore, I commit to working across the parties and with stakeholders to ensure that we consider Dame Elish Angiolini’s report carefully, and that we implement the recommendations.

I move amendment S5M-23450.2, to leave out from “, and calls on” to end and insert:

“; welcomes the review as a detailed and substantial piece of work with over 80 recommendations in total that will require careful consideration from the Scottish Government, Scottish Police Authority, Police Scotland, the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC), police staff associations and trade unions, and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service; recognises the significant public interest that there is in having a rights-based approach to the issue of the handling of police complaints; notes that Dame Elish Angiolini will give evidence to the Justice Sub Committee on Policing on 7 December 2020; further notes a number of recommendations would require legislative change; acknowledges the Chief Constable’s membership of the National Police Chiefs' Council, which provides an opportunity, where appropriate, to share best practice across the UK; calls on the Scottish Government and other key stakeholders to meet as a matter of urgency to consider the implementation of recommendations; notes the recommendations for wide-ranging changes to the role, responsibilities and structure of the PIRC, which will require public consultation involving police staff associations and trade unions, and urges the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to update the Parliament on discussions with key stakeholders and his response to the report early in the New Year.”

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We go to Rhoda Grant. You have four minutes, Ms Grant. I should also say that you should speak to and move your amendment S5M-23450.1.


Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I welcome the publication of Elish Angiolini’s report. Two years ago, Scottish Labour’s Daniel Johnson raised concerns about how police complaints were being handled. As yet, little appears to have happened to address that. We cannot delay in implementing the report’s findings.

When the then Police Investigations and Review Commissioner, Kate Frame, gave evidence to the Justice Committee in November 2018, she said:

“In one example, a complaint involving someone who had been unlawfully detained was recorded by the police as a quality of service complaint. In another example, an allegation of rape was recorded by the police as incivility. There is a further example in which someone was punched twice on the face, and that was recorded by the police as excessive force rather than as assault.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 6 November 2018; c 17.]

That is clearly unacceptable. It is important that the public have trust in the police. If there are complaints about the service, either from within the force or from the general public, they need to be dealt with openly and transparently.

In the short time that I have available, I will focus on our amendment, which highlights concerns about diversity. It is important that the make-up of the force reflects the community that it serves. There is some way to go for Police Scotland to achieve that. We acknowledge the targeted recruitment campaigns for groups that are underrepresented in the service, but more needs to be done.

The report makes worrying observations about the treatment of officers from minority groups. It highlights that black, Asian and minority ethnic people who joined the force tend to leave within a short number of years instead of pursuing a career in it. The report says:

“The evidence suggests that some officers and staff experience discriminatory conduct, attitudes, behaviours and micro-aggressions, both internally and externally, in the course of their duties. We heard that many of these incidents go unreported even though some of these behaviours constitute misconduct and that there was a reluctance in those Black, Asian and minority ethnic officers to report for fear of being characterised as ‘playing the race card’.”

Again, that is clearly unacceptable.

It is also clear that the drive to recruit more officers from diverse backgrounds has the aim of changing the culture of the organisation. Sadly, the culture that those officers are recruited to change is driving them away because it is discriminatory.

Similar attitudes towards female officers, of sexism and misogyny, have been spoken of by Rhona Malone. She is not the first female officer to raise those concerns, but the attitudes appear to persist throughout the force.

If those attitudes are held by officers in the force, they are being displayed by officers to the public. Such attitudes need to be met with zero tolerance, and I believe that the recommendation that the force be subject to a review by an independent organisation needs to be implemented urgently. Underlying institutional attitudes would not influence the outcome of such a review.

The police must have the confidence of the public, and our officers must have confidence in the force. Therefore, they are held to a higher standard than is the general public. A small minority can damage the reputation of the force and make the work of ethical officers much more difficult.

When racism, misogyny and discrimination are allowed to go unchecked, that creates a workplace that breeds such attitudes, and it cannot be put right by gestures. It requires a change in the institution’s culture, so we urge that the report’s recommendations are acted on urgently.

I move amendment S5M-23450.1, to insert at end:

“; notes with concern the findings in the report that there has been discriminatory treatment towards individuals and staff from minority groups, including Black, Asian and minority ethnic people, women and LGBTI people; agrees that Police Scotland should have a workforce that is reflective and representative of the communities that it serves; believes that the policies, procedures and practices of Police Scotland should promote and not hinder equalities issues, including a complaints procedure that is trusted by officers when they seek to raise equalities issues, and therefore calls for an independent review of equalities matters across the force, as recommended in the report.”


John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

I thank Dame Elish Angiolini, her team and everyone who contributed to what is a significant piece of work that has rightly received a warm welcome, including from the Scottish Green Party. It is important that the report is properly examined and actioned, and that the proposals that consultation should take place before any legislation is put in place are dealt with appropriately.

I am convener of the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing. I am not speaking in that capacity, but I want members to know that we are taking evidence from Dame Elish on 7 December; I look forward to that.

The terms of reference that Dame Elish worked to included

“fairness to all those who make or are the subject of a complaint”

and other terms including accountability, transparency, proportionality, effectiveness and efficiency. Those terms have been delivered on. There is also mention of a “learning culture” and relatively new systems. There have been tensions in relationships as well as what we might call turf wars, but I think that we are getting there with that.

There have been challenges with the procedures in relation to chief officers. That issue is being addressed by the Scottish Police Authority and PIRC. We need to draw a distinction between service complaints and complaints about individuals, so I look forward to the outcome of that.

It is not new for the code of ethics to be discussed in police circles. It is fair to say that it means different things to different people, but it is important to note that it is a baseline, so I look forward to discussions on that.

Perhaps one of the amendments that I am most proud of securing in Parliament was when the legislation for Police Scotland was going through. I had an amendment accepted that meant that officers joining Police Scotland should swear an oath to uphold the human rights of citizens. From recent events, we know that Police Scotland has high regard for human rights. The Covid legislation has been overseen by an independent advisory group, led by John Scott QC, and it was Mr Scott who led the inquiry into stop and search powers, which as I recall concluded by saying that the police should be the front-line defenders of citizens’ human rights. I am clear that we must take a rights-based approach to the report, and I welcome the explicit use of that term in the Government’s amendment.

Police officers have human rights, too, and I think that there is much common ground across the parties on that. I hope that all members will support the Labour amendment, as the Green Party does. I welcome what the cabinet secretary said about the chief constable’s announcement responding specifically to that element that is covered by the Labour amendment.

The inclusion of victim involvement is interesting. From my past career, I know that people can feel that their interests are not represented at a fatal accident inquiry, in the same way as victims of sexual crime do not always feel that their interests are being represented in a court of law. There is an interesting discussion to be had about how we address that through

“meaningful involvement and constructive engagement”,

to use Dame Elish’s term.

I also want to reflect on the idea of blameless error. The police have a lot of interactions and, as Dame Elish said, we need to show maturity and wisdom in how we respond. We need to be cautious about changes to informal resolution.

Wherever the deliberations take us, I hope that we will have regard to one phrase that could apply anywhere. Dame Elish said that

“the systems need to demonstrate a greater degree of humanity”.

If we get that approach right, everyone’s interests will be met.


Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

I thank Liam Kerr for giving Parliament the opportunity to briefly consider the report that Dame Elish Angiolini has produced. As he observed, it is regrettable, and perhaps slightly baffling, that the Government did not see fit to debate the report in its own time, not least at a point at which we are seeing a huge number of statements being shoehorned into the parliamentary timetable.

As others have done, I pay tribute to Dame Elish for her work in producing the report, as well as for her willingness to engage with the Justice Committee, including in relation to her interim findings.

It is worth taking a moment to remind ourselves of the context in which the review was set up. Back in 2017, after the Government’s rushed centralisation of Scottish policing, serious allegations were made against former chief constable Phil Gormley. Instead of being suspended pending investigation of those complaints, Mr Gormley was put on special leave. The PIRC, meanwhile, was left in the dark. Mr Gormley’s return to work was later approved by former Scottish Police Authority chair Andrew Flanagan, who hastily backed down after an intervention by the then justice secretary, Michael Matheson. Shortly after that, both Mr Gormley and Mr Flanagan left their posts.

It is little wonder that, in her interim report, Dame Elish referred to “actual or perceived partiality” due to relationships between senior police and SPA board members that were, in her words, “too cosy”. Susan Deacon alluded to something similar when she resigned as SPA chair at the end of 2019, citing governance and accountability arrangements for policing that were

“fundamentally flawed in structure, culture and practice”.

A year on, and Dame Elish’s final report paints a picture that is no less stark. Her recommendation to remove the option for police officers to avoid investigation by retiring reflects earlier calls by the Justice Committee. Giving the PIRC responsibility for key stages of proceedings involving senior officers makes sense. So, too, does the introduction of greater independence and transparency into all gross misconduct hearings.

However, it is the aspects of the report relating to inclusion and diversity, as well as mental health, that are most striking. I welcome the Labour Party amendment, as John Finnie did. Discriminatory attitudes and behaviours more than two decades after the Macpherson report are wholly unacceptable. We should all be concerned about BAME officers leaving the service or being unwilling to recommend it as a career choice for others. The comments on “underlying sexism” and a “machismo culture” with a lack of willingness to accommodate requests for flexible working are all blunt messages requiring urgent and sustained action by Police Scotland, the SPA and the Scottish Government.

There is also a blunt message on the need for mental health to be of “paramount importance” for the police service. About a year ago, my colleague Willie Rennie highlighted to the First Minister evidence of widespread issues of poor mental health affecting officers and staff. At the time, the cabinet secretary claimed that he was “very satisfied” with police wellbeing. Since then, I have consistently raised the issue with Mr Yousaf, but there is no sign yet of the Government getting to grips with the scale of the problem. That is not good enough. Our police deserve better, the public expects better and Parliament should demand better.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you for being so succinct. We move to the open debate. We are pushed for time, so speeches should be of no more than four minutes.


Gordon Lindhurst (Lothian) (Con)

I start at what I consider to be the beginning and with what should be emphasised: our police officers do an often difficult job very well indeed. We should always remember that and that we are fortunate in Scotland to have them. We should be thankful for the work that they do.

Individual police officers, far less the whole of Police Scotland, do not always get things right—of course they do not. However, since I became an MSP in 2016, I can say that local police commanders have always been ready and willing to look at specific constituency cases that I have raised with them. They have considered them and they have acted if something has not been dealt with as it ought to have been. The issues have varied considerably, from rural constituents’ concerns that the police were not there for them to disagreements between cyclists and others that perhaps went too far on one side or the other—I say that as both a pedestrian and cyclist.

Policing is about duty, about responsibility to the people of Scotland and about treating whoever comes into contact with the police, for whatever reason, with fairness and respect. The word “whoever” does not need qualification or definition, because it includes everyone in Scotland. It is not the job of the police to take sides with individuals against others—quite the opposite. The police must be confirmed and protected in their neutrality from any attempts by individuals or organisations to involve them in what are essentially political disputes. In a democracy, the place to resolve political disputes is here in Parliament.

The duty and responsibility of the police is to apply the law without fear, favour or affection towards anyone or any cause. That does not mean, of course, that the police have no discretion in how, when, where and why they approach the application of the law. Using such discretion can be a difficult part of any job, and it may be where Police Scotland has sometimes fallen down, including internally.

As Dame Elish Angiolini found, there is not only room but a need for improvement. All the recommendations that she makes in her report should be considered carefully. That includes, for example, understanding how an increase in powers for the PIRC could work. Greater independence within a complaints and investigation process should be a good thing, provided that an intelligent and informed understanding of policing is applied in that context, especially given that we have seen attempted interference in such processes by Government in the past.

It would also be welcome if the Scottish Government were to collaborate with the UK Government in understanding and seeking to apply in the Scottish context some of the useful lessons that have been learned from the English experience, while avoiding any repetition of mistakes that may have unintentionally happened in England.

At the end of the day, however, considered reforms encouraged by the recommendations will be futile unless wider structural issues and funding deficits for Police Scotland are resolved. The centralisation of administration and cuts in funding under the Scottish National Party Government have had a huge number of negative knock-on effects. I hope for, and look forward to, real action for real people in respect of the report and its consideration.


Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

This is a very important debate and I thank the Conservatives for bringing it to the chamber. It is important for a number of reasons, but primarily because the public must have access to a comprehensive and fair system for complaints, investigations and misconduct issues in relation to the police.

The report from Dame Elish Angiolini is extremely detailed—it runs to 489 pages and 81 recommendations, which in itself speaks volumes about the complexity of the issue. It is clear that there is a lot for Police Scotland, the SPA, the PIRC and the Scottish Government to consider.

As a member of both the Justice Committee and the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing since 2016, I have been extremely impressed with the professionalism and ethics of Police Scotland, which consistently co-operates with both committees fully and transparently. The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated that, even under extreme pressure, Police Scotland can operate in a proportionate and efficient manner to maintain public confidence.

That said, there are issues relating to individual cases, some of which have been highlighted today by Liam Kerr and Liam McArthur. Those issues throw up questions, and there must be an effective process for dealing with them. Some high-profile historical cases have demonstrated an urgent need for reform of the complaints system. In any democracy, the police service must be held to account for its actions if a complaint is raised, because police officers are, like everyone, human and fallible, and things go wrong. The report lays out starkly the challenges that exist with regard to the complaints procedure and, at times, the deficiencies in the historical culture of Police Scotland.

As the cabinet secretary said, many of the report’s recommendations require legislation, which the Government will consider, informed by stakeholder views. Many of the recommendations have already been progressed following Dame Elish’s interim report, which was published in June 2019. For example, Police Scotland has worked to make its complaints system clearer and more accessible on its website, and it has resolved many complaints simply through direct conversation with the complainant, rather than by instigating a lengthy multistage process.

Chief Constable Iain Livingstone has made it extremely clear that discriminatory attitudes have no place in a modern police service, and Police Scotland is working hard to address those matters by developing diversity and equality in the force. However, the report notes—as Rhoda Grant highlighted—that there has been discriminatory treatment of minority groups. I find that deeply troubling; I agree with Dame Elish’s recommendations in that respect and I hope that measures to address those issues are progressed urgently. The cabinet secretary confirmed today that the chief constable has already agreed to a fundamental review of that area, which I welcome.

There are also recommendations on death-in-custody investigations, structural changes and additional powers for the PIRC, and on giving a basis in statute to gross misconduct hearings and a code of ethics.

There is so much in the report that it is possible only to scratch the surface of the detail in a short speech. Dame Elish Angiolini will give evidence to the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing on 7 December, and I look forward to hearing more on the detail of the report.

The report is very welcome, as a review of the complaints system was very much needed. I congratulate Dame Elish Angiolini on what is an enormous body of work, and I acknowledge the steps that have already been taken by Police Scotland to address some fundamental issues. That is vital to ensuring that the public can have full confidence and pride in our national police force.


Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I recall that, in the 2013 parliamentary debate about the merger of Scotland’s eight police forces, my colleague John Lamont expressed his concerns not about the reforms themselves but about how the SNP intended to implement them—specifically, how local accountability could be protected, how financial savings could be delivered and how there could be much greater transparency within the system, especially if serious complaints or disciplinary issues were exposed.

That is why, at the time, the Scottish Conservatives were keen to see directly elected police commissioners and why we wanted to see a commitment to 1,000 extra police officers on the beat. We believed then, and we believe now, that policing works best when there is local accountability and when there is full transparency over how the police force operates, including in relation to the complaints system.

As Liam Kerr pointed out, Dame Elish Angiolini’s report fully exposes some fundamental flaws in the system—flaws that I believe will undermine public trust in the system unless they are quickly and properly addressed. Even if there have been some operational improvements, the report makes it abundantly clear that not nearly enough is being done to ensure that police officers will be treated fairly and given the necessary support. The report is extremely clear that, overall, there is a poor complaints system, and that is simply not acceptable.

Although the cabinet secretary appears to recognise that some things have gone wrong—specifically, that there has not been a sufficiently robust or transparent system in place—he needs to address why that is the case. Undoubtedly, he should be most concerned about the stubborn problem of racism, sexism, homophobia and other discriminatory behaviour within the force, in what Dame Elish referred to as “canteen culture”. He should also be concerned about the knock-on effect that that has had on recruitment and retention, particularly of women officers and those from ethnic minorities.

On that theme, Dame Elish singled out the Scottish Police Federation for not being as approachable as officers have a right to expect. That is something that should surely worry the cabinet secretary, too. We must realise that the job is hard enough for police officers as it is without their feeling that their professional standards are being undermined by bigotry or discrimination. I know from his previous statements in the chamber that the cabinet secretary genuinely believes that such a culture is unacceptable, but we are now 20 years on from the Macpherson report, and it is very apparent that lessons still need to learned. The cabinet secretary needs to give a strong commitment that he will do all in his power to end that ugly culture and to ensure that we make some progress.

The cabinet secretary should also think about why there has not been sufficient transparency in the system. Specifically, he should tell us whether he will adopt Dame Elish Angiolini’s recommendations that the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner should have more powers and become more accountable to the Scottish Parliament, so that there can be greater scrutiny of decision making, and that any gross misconduct hearings should be held in public. That follows the very unsatisfactory situations that have surrounded the departure of some senior officers, as discussed by Liam McArthur, on which the full facts have not been made clear.

Dame Elish has identified why there need to be legislative changes in order to address the concerns that her report identifies. She recommends that there should be much stronger relationships between the Scottish and UK Governments in order to share best practice and to learn from each other’s failings.

I will close with a comment from the current chief constable, Iain Livingstone. He said that the “core values” of the police should be

“integrity, fairness and respect and a commitment to upholding human rights.”

He is absolutely correct, but it is clear that, at present, we have a long way to go until those values can be fully delivered.


Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

It is fundamental in any democracy that the police service is held to account for its actions. I am sure that Parliament will agree that the “Independent Review of Complaints Handling, Investigations and Misconduct Issues in Relation to Policing” is a comprehensive and robust report. As others have mentioned, it runs to nearly 500 pages and makes 81 recommendations overall, which reassures me that the review—the first of its kind—has done its job of investigating our complaints procedures with regard to policing.

As has been said, Dame Elish Angiolini will give evidence to the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing on 7 December. As a member of that committee, I welcome the upcoming session as an appropriate time to ask questions and to begin to make progress on the recommendations. It certainly does not feel to me as though the report has been put in a filing cabinet, as per an earlier remark in the debate.

It is vital that anyone can make a complaint that will be responded to fairly. There have been challenges in the complaints process. Although we are all very well served by our police service, to which we are indebted, we need to be able to recognise when things are not quite as they should be. It is in everybody’s interests, including those of the police, that the complaints procedure is carried out in a fair and transparent manner. Overall, that will strengthen the public’s confidence in policing, which benefits society and the police force.

As we have heard from other members, as local MSPs we all know, through constituents, of situations involving complaints. I say again that it is really important that the public have trust in the process.

With the presentation of such a robust and detailed report, it is my hope that the Scottish Government will take the time to fully understand the difficulties and concerns that have been set out, to consider the recommendations and how to implement them appropriately and, overall, to engage with those who have been affected, while also linking in with the work of the Justice Committee and the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing, as appropriate.

Legislative changes are likely to be needed, which will require meticulous planning and consideration, but we are not starting from scratch—the interim report that was published in June 2019 has already resulted in many changes taking place in Police Scotland. There are now audits of complaints processes, improved training and an improvement in the relationship between key bodies. The complaints procedure is also now clearer, and it is evident that Police Scotland is making efforts to rectify the issues that are seen in its procedures. Police Scotland acknowledges the presence of discrimination and has stated that it is committed to addressing discriminatory attitudes and behaviours. That point, which picks up on what Liz Smith said, is important.

Police Scotland has played a pivotal role in the response to the pandemic, as have all our public services. The debate about the review is extremely important and will continue to be so, long after today’s business, but in the midst of a pandemic, it is only right that we, as elected representatives, come to the chamber—or, in my case, connect from home—to stand up for our officers on the street. Having been on the front line while the pandemic has hit our nation, they have faced higher risks than usual, have ensured compliance with difficult and ever-changing restrictions with empathy and in a supportive manner, and have used enforcement as a last resort when it has been required. I want to put on record my heartfelt thanks to all officers and, of course, a special thanks to those who work in Coatbridge and Chryston.

Public confidence in Police Scotland, especially during this tough period of the pandemic, remains high. Each person who interacts with the police brings with them their own experience—both positive and negative—and each police officer brings theirs. I welcome the report, and it is my hope that, as the proposed changes are implemented over time, the police’s rating with the public will grow even higher.


Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this afternoon’s debate. Dame Elish Angiolini has produced a significant and wide-ranging report, which has many important recommendations on areas in which we need to see prompt action.

The Home Office commissioned Dame Elish Angiolini to produce a report into deaths in custody in the UK, which was published in October 2017. As the cabinet secretary knows, I have raised concerns and called for reform in that area, following my engagement with the family of Sheku Bayoh, who died in police custody in May 2015 after his arrest on the street in Kirkcaldy. Mr Bayoh’s family and friends have suffered, and it has been a long journey for them to the public inquiry, which needs to provide them with answers and make recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future.

Following the 2017 report, I called for comparable work to be undertaken in Scotland. I welcome the broad manner in which the independent review into complaints handling, investigations and misconduct issues in relation to policing has been approached.

Labour’s amendment highlights the worrying evidence that is presented by the report of the racism, homophobia and misogyny that are experienced by police officers in the force. I have to say that I was disappointed by part of the response of the Scottish Police Federation. It is regrettable that the SPF gave the impression that it was downplaying the criticism by describing the police service that is portrayed in the report as one that it did not recognise, when it is clear that the report reflects the lived experience of police officers who have been affected by an unacceptable culture. I support the need for a fundamental review of equality matters, and I welcome the chief constable’s commitment to an independent review.

I welcome the recommendation that deaths in custody be treated with the same urgency as homicide investigations, and that the family of the deceased have access to free legal advice and representation from the earliest point and throughout any subsequent inquiry. I have seen how overwhelming it is to deal with the immediate investigation and then the police complaints system and to attempt to find answers, all while dealing with grief and the loss of a loved one. Access to free legal advice would go some way towards addressing the imbalance that is felt by a family that has experienced a death in custody, and providing support at a traumatic time.

It was 30 days before the police officers who attended the arrest of Sheku Bayoh gave evidence to the PIRC. On the day of Mr Bayoh’s death, officers all returned to the same station and spent eight hours together. I understand that police officers are entitled to the same protection as all citizens; however, the current legislation and regulations—and, in the Sheku Bayoh case, the guidance at the time—create an environment that makes it possible for information not to be shared at key moments in an investigation. That is not acceptable, and the recommendation that all police officers should be interviewed swiftly, and without contact with other officers, in death-in-custody cases is an obvious reform that needs to happen. The recommendation that early retirement would not exclude police officers from gross misconduct cases is important, as it would retain and strengthen accountability.

The recommendations regarding the PIRC identify some of the key issues that have risked undermining the PIRC’s reputation. There is a need to balance the number of former police officers in the PIRC with expertise from outside the force, and to increase transparency and accountability, as well as democratic oversight.

Although there will be those who defend the current system of police complaints and the role of the PIRC, the report addresses significant issues on which we need to see demonstrable progress. The report is extensive, and I have focused on only a few issues that have been central to my work as an MSP.

It is only a few weeks since the publication of the report into policing during the miners’ strike, which made it clear that when the police become isolated from the community, and lack transparency and accountability, the souring of that relationship can last for years, and it can be difficult to rebuild trust. Our police force must be welcoming and inclusive to all, which can only strengthen its position in our communities.


Shona Robison (Dundee City East) (SNP)

I also thank Dame Elish Angiolini for her hard work in compiling a comprehensive report with 81 recommendations, which build on the many recommendations in the interim report. I also put on record my thanks to the police service, which continues to enjoy robust levels of public confidence across the country. The police service has been doing a challenging job during the pandemic.

We can all agree that it is fundamental that the police service is held to account for its actions, and that anyone is able to make a complaint and, in doing so, can be confident that it will be responded to fairly and robustly. The report is clear about the challenges in the complaints process and, importantly, about the culture that needs to change. Key recommendations include expanding the role of the PIRC, which is crucial.

The final report, which was received by the Scottish Government just over two weeks ago, and its recommendations will need to be properly considered by Police Scotland, the SPA, the PIRC and the Scottish Government, which will take some time.

Liam Kerr

In the Government’s amendment to the motion, the cabinet secretary says that he will respond to the report in the new year. Does Shona Robison think that it is good enough to have to wait at least two months to find out what the Scottish Government’s response is to such a major report?

Shona Robison

We have heard some of its response today. As the work is taken forward in detail, it is important that all stakeholders and, indeed, the Parliament are involved. I would have thought that Liam Kerr, as a fellow member of the Justice Committee, would want that committee to be very involved in discussing the recommendations. On that note, Dame Elish Angiolini will give evidence to the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing on 7 December, which will be an important part of the parliamentary process.

It is important to recognise that many operational improvements have already been implemented by Police Scotland and others. In fact, I understand that about 21 of the 30 recommendations in the interim report have already been partly or fully implemented. It is important to recognise that. As has been said, other recommendations require legislative change, which will need to be fully informed by stakeholder views and, of course, prioritised in the legislative programme.

One of the issues that has quite rightly received major attention is the need to tackle the equality matters that have been raised. It is right that an independent review is taken forward and that the chief constable has moved swiftly to act on the issue. It is crucial that our police service reflects our society more generally. I agree with Liam McArthur’s comments that, so long after the Macpherson report, some of those issues remain and that we must make progress on them.

It is important that all parties have the opportunity to consider the recommendations in detail, and the Parliament has a really important role in allowing us to do so. Today, the cabinet secretary has confirmed that he will take forward a consultation involving police staff associations and trade unions and that he will update Parliament on the discussions with key stakeholders early in the new year.

I am happy to support the amendment in the name of Humza Yousaf.


Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

I echo the thanks of members across the chamber to Dame Elish Angiolini for her wide-ranging and thorough report, and I thank the Conservatives for lodging the motion so that Parliament has the opportunity to consider that important report. Most important, I thank the police, as others have done. In my time on the Justice Committee and as justice spokesperson for Labour, I have been struck by the dedication and integrity of the many officers to whom I have spoken—those on the front line and those at the most senior levels. I have no doubt about their dedication and commitment to policing by consent.

However, it is clear from the report that there are serious deficiencies in the organisation and systems, and that the outcomes that result from those systems run contrary to those individuals’ efforts. Given the very recent creation of Police Scotland and the concerns that were set out at its inception, the report leads one to the conclusion that the fundamental flaws in the creation of Police Scotland and in the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 need to be addressed.

Let us be clear: as members have pointed out, the report—which is almost 500 pages long and contains 80 recommendations; indeed, the executive summary alone runs to almost 30 pages—makes for very uncomfortable reading. The points that Labour has highlighted in our amendment regarding equalities and the treatment of minorities within the police are perhaps the most stark. The points about that in the report were unexpected, but I have to say that I was not entirely surprised.

It is almost a quarter of a century since the publication of the Macpherson report, and I find the fact that that report needs to be quoted in this one very serious. I spoke to many of the same people to whom Liam Kerr spoke, including Rhona Malone and other female police officers who pursued complaints. The stories that they told me were, frankly, shocking.

First, they experienced systemic opposition to their complaints. Vital safety equipment was not suitable for females or for people of smaller stature in policing roles. When police officers raised complaints, they faced the system being used against them through the recategorisation of complaints. They were frustrated in pursuing their complaints. They saw the system being used against them in relation to their fitness for front-line service and, ultimately, found themselves in positions in which they had no option but to resign from the police service.

That is unacceptable. It is a situation that must be confronted by the police, and I urge senior officers to take those issues seriously and to tackle them head on. It is not enough to say that that is not their intent or objective in the way that they manage their service; they need to accept that casual inaction is just as much at fault in such situations.

We must also take very seriously the points that have been highlighted regarding structures, governance and oversight. As many people have pointed out, at the heart of our policing is the principle of policing by consent. As Gordon Lindhurst pointed out, we need real action for real people. We cannot have confidence that we have policing by consent if the fundamental structures that are there to oversee our police are not working properly—and that is what the report tells us.

The report tells us that the PIRC—the body that we charge with investigating serious issues in our police—does not have the powers or standing that it needs in order to do its job properly. We hear that the SPA does not have the capacity or capability to undertake its job properly; indeed, the former chair of the SPA says exactly that. In short, the legislation that was enacted in 2012 was simply not adequate. We need to invest in the systems and ensure that the police service can invest in its organisation and that we have adequate oversight; otherwise, quite simply, we undermine the very principle of policing by consent. The Government should reflect on the fact that it has already conceded that it will need to introduce legislation to correct the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 so soon after the creation of Police Scotland—that is a very serious situation in which to find itself.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

Thank you—you finished just as I was about to say, “You must conclude”.


Humza Yousaf

It has been a helpful debate. Let me address some of the key points that members raised.

The point that Daniel Johnson made about officers from a minority ethnic background and the complaints and concerns raised by female officers is a good place to begin. The point was made very well by many members across the chamber, including Liam McArthur, Liz Smith, Shona Robison, Rhoda Grant and—as I said a moment ago—Daniel Johnson. Members should be in no doubt that the Government views that situation with concern. Equally, on the other hand, I am pleased with the swift and decisive action that has been taken by the chief constable to accept the recommendation in Dame Elish Angiolini’s report. I also note that the various staff associations that represent either minority groups or female officers have been positive about the chief constable’s swift action. I noticed comments from the lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender and intersex staff association, the Scottish women’s development forum and SEMPER Scotland—which represents ethnic minority officers—straight away, all welcoming the swift and decisive action.

I speak to the chief constable frequently—during the pandemic, weekly, if not even more frequently—and I can tell the chamber very clearly that he has an absolute commitment to equality and diversity. The issue came up in conversation well in advance of Dame Elish Angiolini’s report, and I have every confidence in him, as well as in the SPA, taking it forward. Nonetheless, I agree with members right across the chamber that what Dame Elish Angiolini highlighted in her report is of grave concern.

A number of members suggested that the current system is not fit for purpose, which does a slight disservice to those who work at the PIRC, for example. We know from the 2019-20 annual report from the PIRC that 240 complaint handling reviews were conducted, with 30 investigations resulting from police referrals and 46 investigations referred from the Crown.

There is a great deal of work to be done and there are many recommendations. Liz Smith asked directly whether the Government believes that the PIRC should have more powers, and the answer is yes. That is a very clear thread from Dame Elish Angiolini’s review, and it comes across in many of her recommendations. However, it is right that the Government takes time to speak to the PIRC, the Crown, Police Scotland and the SPA, to navigate exactly how and when we do that.

Liam Kerr

On that point, does the cabinet secretary accept that the SNP has, in the past, undermined the independence of the PIRC, which has led to some of the problems that are identified in the Angiolini report?

Humza Yousaf

No, I do not accept that at all.

On Liam Kerr’s point—which I think was also raised by one or two other members—about the Government needing to come forward with a statement on the report, our amendment says that I will come back early in the new year.

I think that Liam Kerr suggested—incorrectly—that, when the interim report was produced, I made a statement to Parliament. I think that he will want to check the record on that and perhaps clarify the situation. I gave evidence on the interim report to the Justice Committee. I have not yet been invited again by the Justice Committee or by the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing, although I understand that the sub-committee may want me to come before it in the new year, and I would be happy to do that. If the sub-committee wants to see me earlier than that, it may issue the invitation and, of course, I will do what I can to attend.

I am more than happy to come forward. I think that it makes sense, however, for there to be a little time—it does not have to be extensive—for partners and key stakeholders to understand how we are going to implement the recommendations. We also have to think about the legislative timetable, particularly as we are in an election year, with a new Parliament forthcoming.

Gordon Lindhurst was right to point out the resource implications, which is another reason why we have to work through the recommendations. If we are to accept them, there will undoubtedly be resource implications. He was, however, wrong to say that there have been recent cuts to policing in Scotland. That is not the case. We increased Police Scotland’s budget last year by £60 million, which was £10 million more than the Conservatives asked for.

As the Government’s amendment says, we take the recommendations of Dame Elish Angiolini extraordinarily seriously. However, we take equally seriously the concerns that are raised in Rhoda Grant’s amendment, so we will support the Labour amendment.

I will end as I did in my opening remarks. As the chief constable regularly states, policing by consent is derived from the consent not of ministers, nor of the Parliament, but of the public. It is imperative that we do everything in our power to increase the confidence that already exists in policing. I certainly commit myself to coming in front of the Parliament and its committees as often as they would like, to give continued updates on the report. I give an absolute commitment that we will not only take the report seriously but implement its recommendations, to ensure that we continue to increase confidence in policing, which we all want to see across the board.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call Margaret Mitchell to close for the Conservatives. You have up to six minutes.


Margaret Mitchell (Central Scotland) (Con)

In 2017, the Justice Committee decided to carry out post-legislative scrutiny of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012, which had established a single police force in Scotland. Thereafter, it became evident that police handling of complaints was a major issue. In 2018, ministers asked Dame Elish Angiolini to conduct an independent review into the effectiveness of the new system for dealing with complaints against the police in Scotland, including how well such complaints were investigated and processes reviewed.

The final report includes a number of welcome recommendations to strengthen the office of the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner. Those include, but are not limited to, reforming the PIRC to include one commissioner and two deputy commissioners, the commissioner being appointed through nomination by the Scottish Parliament—not ministers—and made accountable to the Parliament; giving the PIRC the statutory power to call in an investigation of a complaint, the ability to investigate a current practice or policy of Police Scotland, and the power to recommend suspension of a senior officer if the PIRC considers that not suspending the officer might prejudice the effectiveness of a misconduct investigation; and transferring the statutory preliminary assessment function from the Scottish Police Authority to the PIRC. Crucially, many of those new powers for the PIRC will require legislative change.

The Justice Committee took evidence on the recommendations in Dame Elish’s interim report in June 2019, and a third of the 30 recommendations require important and necessary legislative change. Legislative changes are required, for example, to make provision for dealing with vexatious complaints; to give the PIRC the power, when investigating a serious incident, to compel police officers to attend an interview within a reasonable timescale; to establish a new, statutory board whose members would be appointed through the Scottish public appointments process; to make provision for scrutinising the work and performance of the PIRC; to make provision for vesting in the commissioner or deputy commissioner the power to make recommendations to direct the reconsideration of complaints; and to place a statutory duty on the chief constable to comply with recommendations unless there are sound, overriding, operational or practical reasons for not doing so.

In June 2019, during an evidence session on the interim report, I asked the justice secretary whether the necessary legislation would be prioritised, and he assured me that it would be discussed with partners that summer. Despite that, almost 18 months later, not one of those recommendations has been implemented. I understand that the coronavirus has disrupted the Scottish Government’s legislative programme, but the legislation that is required has not featured anywhere in the Government’s legislative agenda. On the Government amendment and the justice secretary’s remarks, I say to the cabinet secretary that the key stakeholders have met and discussed the interim recommendations. What is urgently required is legislative action from the Scottish Government.

Humza Yousaf

Will the member at least acknowledge that 21 of the 30 recommendations have been partly or fully implemented? It would not make sense to deliver legislation in a piecemeal fashion. Does the member agree that the sensible approach was to wait for the final report and then bring forward legislative plans to implement the recommendations in full?

Margaret Mitchell

If the cabinet secretary considers the recommendations that I just mentioned, he will see that some of them should have featured in legislation. A talking shop is not what we required.

The final report was published more than two weeks ago, but, as Liam Kerr said, no ministerial statement on it has been made. That hardly inspires confidence, particularly given that a substantial number of recommendations in the final report also require changes to legislation.

On a more general point, it is important to put the police complaints review recommendations in context. The police have the power to deprive citizens of their liberty, so their interaction with the public must be beyond reproach. However, even when the police act with absolute propriety, their actions can make them the subject of adverse comment and reactions or vexatious complaints. The necessary checks and balances must therefore be in place to ensure that the police officers who carry out their essential role have confidence in the complaints system and that the public are reassured that police engagement is fair and proportionate and does not infringe their human rights.

The culture is essential in that regard. Complaints—especially those that allege criminality—must be dealt with fairly and timeously, and they must be subject to independent investigation. That is why an accessible complaints procedure is so important. The report confirms that more needs to be done to improve the process.

A crucial point, which the Labour amendment highlights, is that the process must reach out to communities, to tackle the culture of fear and mistrust and to provide options on different ways for the public to complain.

The independent review recommendations need to be implemented. That means that the structures, powers and accountability of the agencies that are involved in the complaints process require fundamental changes to strengthen the system and enhance public confidence. Currently, however, the legislation that is necessary to provide for the checks and balances that would make that happen is not in place. That situation cannot and must not be allowed to continue.