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Police (Complaints)

Volume 98: debated on Wednesday 4 June 1986

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26.

asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland how many complaints against the police in Scotland have been referred from procurators fiscal to the Lord Advocate for advice or decision.

To date this year, 142 cases of complaints against the police have been reported by regional procurators fiscal to the Crown Office for consideration by Crown counsel. In 1985, 493 cases were reported. Such cases are seen by me and occasionally by my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate.

I am most grateful to the Solicitor-General for that reply. Will he give serious consideration to an examination by his Department into whether the police are referring to the procurators fiscal complaints which have nothing to do with the alleged offences? When the procurators fiscal say that they will take no action, it gives some spurious exoneration to the person under complaint. If that examination shows that that is the case, will the Solicitor-General give further consideration to the possibility of an independent complaints procedure for complaints against the police, in which the Scottish public would have much greater confidence?

The hon. Gentleman raises a serious and difficult matter. There are occasions when the police cannot immediately identify a complaint and when it would be inappropriate for them to reach a conclusion on whether it is purely a disciplinary matter or one which contains an allegation of criminal conduct by the police. Clearly, in those circumstances they tend to veer on the side of caution. They certainly put some cases which do not have a criminal content to procurators fiscal and the Crown Office. I am not sure that that causes the difficulties that the hon. Gentleman mentions, but I am prepared to look into the matter.

Will my hon. and learned Friend confirm that all complaints against the police are reported to a Law Officer and are scrutinised by him, or his noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate, so that the highest consideration is given to any complaint of alleged abuse by the police?

Yes, I can confirm that matters have not changed and that the policy has not been altered since my hon. and learned Friend had these responsibilities. Not everyone is involved if it is only a matter of a possible breach of disciplinary code within the police. Furthermore, if it is a complaint which clearly has no substance, it is not reported to Crown counsel or to one of the Law Officers. Otherwise, as I said, a considerable number of complaints are personally examined by me or by my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate.

Of the 400 or so complaints, how many originated in Greenock and Port Glasgow, and of those how many led to disciplinary or criminal proceedings, being taken?

The hon. Gentleman has me at a loss. I am not able to tell hum immediately what the Greenock and Port Glasgow figures are, and I cannot tell him how many of them resulted in disciplinary proceedings, because the pursuit of disciplinary proceedings would be a matter for the assistant chief constable and the chief constable rather than my self. Those instructions would come from me only if there was a decision to proceed with criminal proceedings against a police officer.

Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that while one wants to see complaints made against the police properly and fully investigated, it is equally important, when frivolous or malicious complaints are made, that the full rigour of the law is taken against people who distract the police and other officers of justice from their proper duties?

Yes, indeed. The policy is clear. If at some stage it is identified that the complaint is in any way malicious or is a wilful effort to waste the time of the police, often to secure a balance, proceedings are taken against those who make the malicious complaints.