Police Accountability in Scotland

I see that Margaret Mitchell MSP is leading the Member’s Debate in the Parliament tomorrow on moves to merge the Police Complaints Commissioner for Scotland with the Public Services Ombudsman

This feeds into a wider consideration of the future shape and accountability of policing in Scotland. In so many cases the police are the good guys, representing the front line of protecting the public's human rights on a daily basis – whether protecting the right to freedom from harm, defending their right to property, or prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, gender, or sexual orientation. Someone on the night bus threatening to interfere with your right to life? Who you gonna call?

In order to uphold the Government's duty to protect the human rights of its citizens, police have legitimate powers to limit the rights of others, most notably in depriving people of their liberty and in the state-sanctioned use of force. But this unique position must come with a commensurate level of scrutiny and accountability with clearly defined international standards being adhered to.

The UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials states that 'every law enforcement agency should be representative of, and responsive and accountable to, the community as a whole', establishing a clear and fundamental standard of the nature of human-rights based policing, and the relationship police should have with the communities they serve and the political system within which they function.

So for example, following recommendations made by the Patten Commission on Policing in Northern Ireland in 1999, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) now has some of the most robust human rights based policies and structures of any police force in the world, including the appointment of an independent human rights advisor to the force, training for all new and existing officers in human rights, and the introduction of mechanisms to promote transparency and democratic accountability within the local community.

Obviously the situation in Scotland is different to that in Northern Ireland, but with the proposed merger of the bodies dealing with complaints, and a complete restructuring of Scotland’s police forces on the cards, it is vital that the protections and scrutiny afforded in the new structures meet the international standards set out above.

Any reform of the current policing structures in Scotland must address legitimate concerns about the transparency and accountability of the final organisation(s) in line with the highest international human rights standards and case studies.

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