By Ian Hamilton QC
My article below raises the question of who is responsible for controlling the police. It was followed up in the on-line law magazine, THE FIRM.
It appears that the police are answerable to no one. I append the piece from THE FIRM.*
Reference in it is made to ACPOS. This is a coven of senior constables. So far as I can discover it is self created and responsible to no one. Nevertheless ACPOS legislates as though it were an elected body.
Among its do-it-yourself laws is one concerning our roads. After a road death the police close the road for eight or ten hours. They have no right to do this. Power to close roads is a matter for Parliament, not for the police. For a county like Argyll the result is disastrous. The police cut us off from elsewhere more often than the weather.
This is not the only idiocy. Now the Chief Constable of Strathclyde is proposing to rush onto the field at Rangers v Celtic games to arrest players. (Volunteers only for this job.) Few things are more likely to exacerbate a football disturbance than on-the-pitch arrests.
There is a suggestion that all the forces should be merged into one. God forbid! We are better with several private armies than with one Mafia.
We urgently need an all party Watch Committee with a sub-committee to hear complaints against the police.
This is one suggestion. There must be many others. Control of the police must never rest in the hands of the government or any political party. Nor must it rest in the hands of Chief Constables. This gives them the power and responsibility of gang leaders in uniform.
It is a sad comment on our daily papers that they have shown little interest.
09 Mar 2011
Scottish Police forces not accountable to devolved Parliament, Holyrood confirms
Following Ian Hamilton QC’s concerns published yesterday in The Firm that the police were not subject to sufficient accountability to Parliament, the Scottish Government has confirmed that the police in Scotland are not accountable to them.
The position is confirmed in legislation that predates the incorporation of the Parliament.
Whilst ministers have a nominal degree of responsibility for aspects of policing, the Government has no role in the key issue of accountability for police acts or policing decisions.
The Scottish Government said that instead, police forces are accountable to police authorities and joint boards for their actions.
However, the full narration of external intervention options provided by the Government in its consultation on policing reform last month confirms that “neither police authorities nor the Scottish Ministers have power to direct chief constables on the enforcement of law or the deployment of police officers.”
And forces across Scotland state publicly that from their perspective, the prime function of the police board is budgetary.
Strathclyde police maintain that Police authorities/boards are responsible for “budget and management of resources for their local force.”
Central Scotland police state that the Board’s main remit “is to ensure that the Chief Constable has sufficient resources to allow him to deliver an efficient and effective police force.
“This involves overseeing the revenue budget and allocating money for resources such as police property, vehicles, clothing and equipment, as well as salaries for police and force support officers,” it adds.
Lothian and Borders police board make no public claim of the forces accountability to them at all, and Grampian Board says its functions encompass setting the Force budget on an annual basis, appointing senior officers, having responsibility for the conduct of senior officers and “having an overall scrutiny role in relation to the way the Chief Constable operates the Force.”
Yesterday, Ian Hamilton QC warned that the police posed “the greatest danger to our freedom” and expressed concern over the lack of a means of accountability.
“To whom are the police responsible? Nobody knows,” he said.
On their public websites, Scottish police forces maintain that policing is shared between Scottish ministers, chief constables and local police authorities/joint police boards, but add that ministerial oversight is restricted to policy and setting the legal and financial framework within which the police service operates.
All accountability for operational matters rests with police force Chief Constables.
The Scottish Government’s “Safer Communities Directorate - Police Division” said that the police are not accountable to Parliamentary in respect of any “operational matters,” and that Government intervention in any case would “not be appropriate.”
“Under the terms of the Police (Scotland) Act 1967, Chief Constables are entirely responsible for operational matters affecting their force, including investigating complaints,” they said.
“It would therefore not be appropriate for the Cabinet Secretary for Justice or any Scottish Government official to intervene in individual cases. This important principle is essential to protect the political and operational independence of the police service in Scotland.”
In their consultation on the future of policing launched last month, the Scottish Government said that the powers of ministers to intervene in policing extended only to making grants to police authorities and joint police boards; approving the appointment of chief constables and requiring a police authority to call on a chief constable to retire in the interests of efficiency; directing a chief constable to provide reinforcement or assistance to another force in the interests of public safety or order; directing chief constables to enter in to collaboration agreements to ensure the efficient discharge of police functions; and requiring the inspectors of constabulary to carry out an inspection of any police force and, where that inspection finds the force inspected is not efficient, directing the police authority or joint police board to take appropriate measures.
There is no mention of accountability to Parliament in respect of the forces’ operations. The Police Complaints Commissioner for Scotland, the conduit which all public policing concerns are directed through, does not appear on the Government’s list of “key bodies responsible for delivering Scotland’s police service” in the consultation.
The government consultaton proposes merging all eight Scottish forces into a single body, under the control of a single Chief Constable.
A prior review in January 2009 conceded that police chiefs had seized power from central government in the post-devolution interregnum as the devolved authority was finding its feet.
“Post-devolution, it appears that the first administration, then known as the Scottish Executive, saw the reform of the criminal justice system as its number one priority in the field of justice. Perhaps…there was initially less attention given to policing in Scotland than there had been pre-devolution,” it said.
“The combination of the growing strength of ACPOS with this understandable change of emphasis from Scottish Ministers and their staff may therefore have led to ACPOS filling something of a vacuum in the national strategic direction of policing - a role performed in England and Wales by the Home Secretary and Home Office. This situation did not persist for long but, when Scottish Ministers and civil servants turned their attention to policing as was inevitable and wholly to be expected, the dynamic had changed enough to make chief officers perhaps feel that some of their territory was being threatened.”
The review concluded that “an elected government in Scotland is the final arbiter of how the preservation and promotion of law and order and community wellbeing is achieved, and Scottish Ministers are therefore held to account for that by the electorate.”
“We believe any future reform will improve services for local communities, increase accountability and protect frontline delivery in the face of budget cuts,” a government justice spokesman told The Firm.