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Annual report and accounts 2019-20

16 Nov 2020

Commissioner's foreword

I have pleasure in presenting my first Annual Report as the Police Investigations & Review Commissioner (PIRC) for the year 2019-20. I wish to extend my gratitude to my predecessor, Kate Frame, who inherited a relatively young and fledging organisation. Under her leadership, she embedded rigorous scrutiny of the newly created single Police Service of Scotland and oversaw significant growth of PIRC, establishing the organisation as an essential part of the wider justice landscape. This was achieved while dealing with several high profile investigations and an increasing workload.

I aim to build on these foundations and, through the work of the PIRC, continue to promote continuous improvement and increase public confidence in policing in Scotland. 

Prior to my appointment, the Cabinet Secretary commissioned an independent review of Police Complaints Handling, Investigations and Misconduct Issues, chaired by Rt Hon Dame Elish Angiolini DBE QC, with a mandate to make recommendations to help to strengthen public confidence in policing in Scotland.

In her preliminary report, published in June 2019, Dame Elish recognised that the core organisations, Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) and the PIRC, were motivated to carry out their functions in a thoroughly professional way. However she highlighted an absence of constructive engagement between the organisations and advocated the need for a concerted effort to make these crucial professional relationships work are effectively. This emphasised the need for better liaison at every level of interaction to increase understanding and reduce the unnecessary tension that had developed. 

Since my appointment, much of my focus has been on improving working relationships with our justice partners, while still providing independent scrutiny of police actions.

There are a number of strands of ongoing collaboration and work designed to foster better communication, improve processes, procedures and relationships between the PIRC and the other stakeholders:

  • The Strategic Oversight Group with representatives from Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), the SPA, Police Scotland and the PIRC has been strengthened with a clear remit to drive improvements at a strategic level.
  • We have played a key role in the establishment of the National Complaint Handling Development Group where representatives from the PIRC, the SPA and Police Scotland are working together to implement measures designed to improve all aspects of complaint handling.
  • Monthly meetings between senior officials within COPFS and Police Scotland’s Professional Standards Department (PSD) have helped to streamline the Investigation process.

We have placed learning and improvement at the heart of our complaint handling reviews and investigations with less emphasis on procedural and administrative issues to foster more of a learning culture within policing. 

This cultural change has resulted in a marked improvement in Police Scotland’s handling of complaints from the public with 62% of complaints found to be reasonably handled; the highest since the inception of the single force seven years ago.

The workload of the PIRC continues to increase with the Investigation Team experiencing its busiest ever year and the Review Team dealing with an increased number of cases while almost halving the backlog of pending applications.

This has been achieved through the hard work, commitment and professionalism of everyone at thePIRC, as highlighted by an attendance rate of more than 98%, one of the highest in the public sector.

Looking ahead, there are a number of significant challenges on the horizon:

  • The Cabinet Sectary has announced a public inquiry into the circumstances and investigation into the death of Sheku Bayoh which, with the PIRC as a key participant, will require substantial preparation.
  • The final report by Dame Elish, expected this Autumn, is likely to have implications for all of the key policing
  • bodies.
  • Planning for the Cop 26 UN environmental summit, one of the biggest events of its kind to be held in Scotland in November 2021.

However, by far our biggest challenge to date came as we approached the end of the year when, in March 2020, we were faced with the emergence of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that impacted on all our lives and how we conduct our daily business.

As an organisation, it had immediate and devastating impact, taking the lives of two valued and popular members of our investigation team. They will both be long remembered for their professionalism, integrity, humour and friendship by all their colleagues and friends at the PIRC. 

The future impact of the Coronavirus pandemic is unknown. In common with many organisations, we have had to adapt to new ways of working. It is credit to the professionalism, commitment and flexibility of everyone at the PIRC that we have continued, almost seamlessly, to deal with day-to-day business and provide a vital service, that is central to improving the standard of policing in Scotland.


Michelle Macleod


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