From sanctions to solutionsStatutory Guidance cover

In November 2010 Professor John McNeill launched a consultation on draft statutory guidance on police complaints handling: "From sanctions to solutions".

The resulting guidance was published on Monday 21 March 2011.

Consultation opened:
21 November 2010

Consultation closed:
11 January 2011

Statutory Guidance published:
21 March 2011


This is a report on the consultation which sought the views of stakeholders and members of the public about draft statutory guidance on police complaint handling.  The report covers the background to into the consultation and a summary of the feedback received from stakeholders and members of the public.


The current police complaints system is based around the Police (Conduct) (Scotland) Regulations 1996.  The focus of the regulations is very much on misconduct rather than complaints.  This means that where a complaint is made but the behaviour of a specific officer is not a concern, there is no standard way for the Scottish Police Service to deal with it.  Complaints about the service provided and failings of the organisation are therefore dealt with in line with a standard operating procedure devised by each individual force.

The Police Advisory Board for Scotland's technical working group, conduct working party (of which the PCCS is a member) was set up in May 2010 and began working towards modernising the regulations that deal with police complaints and misconduct.  The Commissioner then decided that, in tandem with this work and considering the complaint handling reviews he had already published, he would issue practical and comprehensive statutory guidance under section 45 of the Police, Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2006 for the Scottish Police Service on complaint handling.

Consultation responses

Q1 Timescales
We stated timescales should be reasonable. This was not in question.  However, the draft guidance was not prescriptive on this issue and we wondered if it had gone far enough to address it.

We received 18 responses in total, 16 of which made comment on this issue. Nine said we should be more prescriptive, particularly regarding basic performance indicators. Two respondent expressed the view that the guidance should not be prescriptive regarding timescales.

However, it was generally accepted that timescales should be reasonable and if put in place, there ought to be some flexibility to allow for cases that take longer to conclude due to unexpected or complex issues arising. Additionally, there was general comment that the complainer should receive clear and regular updates in these circumstances.

Based on the responses specific timescales have been included. It was suggested that 20 working days might be a reasonable timescale in which to handle a complaint. However, in order to allow for complex issues to be investigated the guidance has been amended to include 40 working days as a reasonable target.  Additionally, complaints should be acknowledged within three working days, and complainers should be updated at least once every calendar month.

Q2 Frontline resolution
We asked for comments on the practicalities of the Commissioner's vision of frontline resolution.

Of the 18 responses, 14 made comment on this area. 12 were generally supportive of the principle.  However, 7 respondents believed that ALL complaints (potential or not) should be recorded and auditable.

Based on the responses, it was decided that ALL complaints and potential complaints should be noted in basic form for monitoring purposes.

Q3 Off Duty
We asked how consistency can be maintained regarding the assessment of off duty complaints.

We received 11 comments regarding this.  Generally the responses were supportive of the guidance in this area.  Some suggestions were made in an attempt to ensure consistency and these were considered during the final drafting of the document.  One respondent suggested that a clearer definition was needed.  There was also one comment that off duty complaints should be dealt with in the same way as on duty complaints.   

The Commissioner concluded that there was no question that off duty complaints must be afforded the same level of investigation as on duty complaints.  However the problem with achieving consistency would lie in the assessment of these complaints. Based on the responses the document was amended in attempt to provide clearer guidance in this area.

Q4. Chief Officers
We asked for views on the practicalities of complaints about Chief Officers being addressed beyond the minimum standards set out in current legislation.

Of the 13 responses we received in relation to this issue, seven respondents agreed with the approach taken in the guidance and there was a feeling that complaints about Chief Officers should be dealt with in the same way as complaints about other ranks.

Victim Support Scotland commented,

As stated in the guidance, the aim is to move from a blame culture to one of learning.  It would seem inconsistent, therefore, that when no action is required against a chief officer following investigation but there are organisational learning points arising from the complaint, if these are not addressed."

Additional comments included that the complaints should be investigated as vigorously as possible, and the process must be auditable.  The Responses from the police boards and authorities alluded to the work which would be required to take this forward and their lack of resources.

Based on the responses the document was amended in attempt to provide clearer guidance in this area.

Q5 Learning and development
We asked if the guidance went far enough to address this issue.

Fourteen of the 18 respondents made comment on this area. Ten respondents generally agreed with the content of the guidance.  Some comments included suggestions on how best to disseminate learning these included having a formal mechanism for recording and sharing learning, and using a model assessment plan for forces.  ACPOS commented that the draft guidance was not a departure from current practice.  One response from a member of the public did not believe this would work while HMICS stated that the guidance could be stronger in this area.

On assessment of the responses, it was decided that the guidance covered all relevant aspects of learning and development and only minor changes were made to this section based on the responses received.

Q6 Training
We asked how training and awareness might be developed and delivered across Scotland.

Thirteen of the 18 responses made comment regarding this. Nine of the responses agreed that a national training package would be beneficial and were happy for the Scottish Police College to do this. One response suggested putting the training to tender in the spirit of best value and one response suggested that there could be problems in developing training nationally for the police boards and forces.  However, some specific training for board members delivered locally would be beneficial. 

It was also agreed that this section of the guidance addressed all of the relevant issues regarding training and was therefore only altered slightly in accordance with the responses received.   

Additional comments

  • The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission suggested that the application of the guidance section of the draft guidance should be nearer the beginning of the document. This has now been moved to section two.
  • The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman commented that "a minimum level of data should always be recorded on all complaints including those at frontline resolution stage." This was echoed by several other respondents. The guidance has been amended in line with these comments.
  • Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance pointed out that "... complainants have a responsibility to act with respect towards Police Officers and staff who are dealing with their complaint, there is no requirement in the guidance for the police and staff to treat those submitting a complaint with respect, only for the complaint itself to be objectively addressed." The guidance now takes account of this.
  • The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland suggested that "... the guidance does not give sufficient confidence that forces could reduce enquiry into lesser matters. In particular there are a small but growing number of complainers who are either persistent or vexatious..." After consideration it was decided that the section dealing with proportionality along with the reference and link to the work of the New South Wales Ombudsman (including the practical manual subsequently produced) would be sufficient to assist police officers and staff dealing with such complaints. The document was not therefore amended to include further guidance in this area.
  • The response from the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency requested that additional appropriate reference be made to the Agency and to the Scottish Police Services Authority. The guidance has been amended taking this into account.