LibDems, Labour and Tories call for overhaul of ‘broken’ police complaints system

Thursday 25 May 2023

Conservative leader Douglas Ross, FM Humza Yousaf. Labour Justice spokesperson Pauline McNeill and LibDem MP Wendy Chamberlain. Top of page Police Scotland chief constable Iain Livingstone.

By Bill Heaney

Tory leader Douglas Ross has called for an overhaul of the “broken” officer complaints system after Police Scotland chief constable Iain Livingstone admitted the force was “institutionally discriminatory and racist”.

At First Minister’s Questions in the Holyrood parliament, the Scottish Conservative leader said the problem in Police Scotland was “systemic” and the complaints processes were “not fit for purpose” and “letting down frontline officers”.

He also urged the SNP Government to deliver extra resources for Police Scotland and provide extra protection for whistleblowers who fear punishment if they raise legitimate concerns.

In response, FM Humza Yousaf said he would look at what more could be done but denied that the force was being asked to do too much with too little.

During the exchange, Douglas Ross highlighted a Scottish Police Authority report which found “significant concerns about the absence of effective performance management systems during the first decade of Police Scotland’s existence”.

The review added: “The greatest challenge we heard, and observed, to driving cultural change within the service was the pressures on frontline resourcing.”

The report also noted: “We heard of people being ‘punished’ for raising issues or concerns.”

Douglas Ross said: “The vast majority of Scotland’s frontline police officers do a fantastic job under incredible pressures. My wife is one of them.

“But a new report from the Scottish Police Authority raises a number of serious systemic issues throughout Police Scotland. The problem here is wide, it is systemic. It starts far away from the frontline, with the management and leadership.

“Urgent action must be taken to overhaul how Police Scotland handles legitimate complaints from within the force. My party has raised officers’ real concerns about the broken police complaints system for some time. It is not fit for purpose.

“Nobody should feel fear when raising concerns. That’s clearly unacceptable. Officers should be able to raise legitimate issues without suffering any consequences.

“Scotland’s police officers also need more funding from the government. The lack of resources they receive is limiting Police Scotland’s ability to change its culture and leaving the thousands of first-class officers without the support they need to do their job.

“Scotland’s police officers are being asked to do too much with too little.”

Scottish Labour Justice spokesperson Pauline McNeill said: “This is a stark admission from Sir Iain Livingstone and shows how much work still needs to be done to combat prejudice within our police force.

“This statement is a welcome step but these issues have been highlighted again and again in recent years and progress to date has been too slow.”

“We know that there is the will within the police force to make policing more equal. Now we need both the Scottish Government and Police Scotland to take action.”


Frontline police officers keeping an eye on a football crowd at Ibrox Park in Glasgow.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrat MP Wendy Chamberlain, who is herself a former police officer, said in response to the comments made by the Chief Constable that the force is “institutionally discriminatory and racist,”  that there are profound problems at the heart of Scottish policing which require urgent and meaningful action.

“The recent report by Mark Hamilton into the culture and operating practices of Police Scotland proposed a series of sensible measures, such as making all staff and officers undergo equality and diversity training and reviewing the recruitment and selection process for the firearms unit.  

“Scottish Liberal Democrats also want to see steps taken to prevent officers from exiting the force or retiring before disciplinary or misconduct procedures can take effect.

“Making these changes requires difficult reflections and responsible leadership, but that is vital if the service is to win the trust of staff and the wider public.”


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