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Annual report and accounts 2018-19

22 Nov 2019

Commissioner's foreword

As my five-year term as Commissioner draws to a close, I recognise that I have been privileged to lead the organisation through a period of profound change in policing and unprecedented demand for the independent scrutiny of police actions. 

Our current operating model was established with some degree of haste in the wake of the decision to form a single Police Service of Scotland in April 2013. Experience over the six years since then, has convinced me that further fine-tuning of our remit and powers would be beneficial. I am hopeful that, as the organisation moves forward into the next phase, there will be further necessary refinement to the independent police oversight framework.

I therefore welcomed the post-legislative scrutiny work of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012, undertaken by the Justice Committee this year. I also believe that Dame Elish Angiolini DBE, QC’s review of the police complaints system in Scotland, which began in September 2018, is timely. Both pieces of work present opportunities to remedy inherent weaknesses in the current system and shape any future model. Last May, we submitted our recommendations to the Committee, flagging up areas that we believe would benefit from reform and thereby strengthening our ability to perform our role. In addition, myself, and several members of staff continue to contribute to Dame Elish Angiolini’s review, which I anticipate will consider some of the following matters:

  • The level of discretion granted to Police Scotland in handling complaints about its officers;
  • The powers afforded PIRC investigators in Crown-directed investigations;
  • The powers afforded PIRC investigators in investigations about retired officers;
  • Increased PIRC engagement with victims and the families of those whose Article 2 or 3 human rights may have been breached;
  • Policing and police oversight bodies’ compliance with all human rights principles.

The outcomes of both these strands of work will provide an opportunity to transform the way police actions are independently scrutinised in Scotland. They will also shape the future powers and remit of the Scottish model of independent police scrutiny. Parliament and public appetite will, of course, determine the pace of any recommended change. Nonetheless, I hope that the change process will begin shortly and evolve to meet future public expectations.

As I highlighted in last year’s Annual Report, during 2017-18 we experienced a dramatic rise in Category A investigations (i.e. our most serious category of investigation). The Scottish Government responded to our requests for additional resources to meet that higher demand by increasing our budget to £4,254,000. This allowed us to recruit further investigatory staff, providing much needed additional capacity.

Notwithstanding this uplift, the 12 months since then saw another significant rise in the number of investigations directed to us. This resulted in an overall increase in our investigations of 86%.

Within this, the number of investigations from both the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) and Police Scotland more than doubled. Notably, the COPFS alone directed 36 investigations to me this year, equalling the total number of investigations received from all referring agencies last year. In contrast to last year, however, we received no referrals containing allegations of misconduct by senior police officers from the Scottish Police Authority (SPA).

In respect of the Review team, this year we saw a reduction of 12% in the number of complaint handling review (CHR) applications we received (from 291 to 258). This reduction may signify greater public satisfaction with the way in which Police Scotland dealt with their complaints.

However, of the applications we did receive, it was disappointing to see that less than half of the complaints had been reasonably handled by the police. We will continue to work with Police Scotland to help improve this figure.

Undoubtedly, this has been a challenging year for the Review team, with a number of gaps in staffing levels because of some short-term issues around recruitment in that team last year. This has led to a backlog of cases which the team, now up to full strength, is working hard to reduce. 

The recruitment of additional staff was made possible by the adjustment to our budget in April 2018, which also allowed us to bring in additional Corporate Services support staff. Due to the numbers of new staff and the need to provide accommodation and facilities for them, demand on the Corporate Services team too this year has been intense.

I am grateful to the Heads of Department and the Communications Team for collating the 2018-19 material and data rapidly, to allow me to submit this report to Scottish Ministers in June 2019, before I completed my tenure as Commissioner, and to provide information on our activities last year, as close as possible to the end of the 2018-19 financial year.

My successor will now take the organisation forward into its next phase, guided by a programme of reform that will strengthen the PIRC’s ability to provide robust and independent scrutiny of police actions. He or she will do so with the support of a dedicated and highly professional team, and I take this opportunity to put on record my thanks to all staff for their hard work and support during the past five years.

I wish them and my successor well for the future.



Kate Frame


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