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RECUSALS UNLIMITED: Doubts over credibility of register of judges’ recusals – as Judicial Office admit court clerks failed to add details of senior judges recusals – then silently altered records a year later

Court clerks concealed Lord Bracadale’s recusal for a year. AN INVESTIGATION into the content of a Register of Judicial Recusals– maintained by the Judiciary of Scotland – has revealed court clerks concealed details relating to at least one recusal of a senior judge – and then secretly altered records a year later – and only after journalists made enquiries.

The chance discovery of one such unlisted recusal – by Lord Bracadale (real name Alistair Campbell QC) in an unidentified case during 2016 – came as journalists studied volumes of newly released court papers showing failures in the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service (SCTS) – who manage the Register of Judicial Recusals for publication by the Judiciary of Scotland.

However, when staff of the Judicial Office were confronted about the omission and asked why information relating to Lord Bracadale recusing from a case was not made public – it took nearly three weeks for spokesperson for the Judicial Office to come up with an explanation, claiming a “clerical error” had occurred, and that the information had since been applied to the register.

During March of this year, journalists presented the Judicial Office with a copy of a recusal signed by Lord Drummond Young which indicated Lord Bracadale had recused himself from a case during May 2016. Journalists then queried why the information did not appear on the Register of Recusals at that time.

It was not until the second week of April a spokesperson for the Judicial Office on 7 April 2017 offered an explanation to the media, which stated: “The register of recusals has now been amended to include the relevant entry. It was an oversight by a clerk which meant the necessary information was not passed on to the Judicial Office.”

The Judicial Office refused to answer further questions on the subject or identify if there were any further cases where recuals have not been recorded in the register.

The information eventually entered on the Register of Recusal now reads:

20/05/2016 Court of Session Lord Bracadale On the pursuer’s motion in relation to the judge’s previous decision to refuse the pursuer’s appeal at a procedural hearing

And a further query to the Judicial Office resulted in an email response from it’s then media chief Elizabeth Cutting which stated “As of today, 13 April, I am no longer working at the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service.”

A request “for a note to be applied to the recusal register in relation to the addition of the recusal by Lord Bracadale” made by a journalist to the Judicial Office and Lord President’s Private Office – generated no further response or action.

Additionally, there was no further explanation provided by the Judicial Office as to why a year had elapsed before the information was correctly applied to the register, and only after the media had alerted the Judicial Office to the omission of the Bracadale recusal.

Legal observers have condemned the retrospective application of information to the Register of Judicial Recusals as “poor administration” and have questioned whether the information relating to Lord Bracadale’s recusal would ever have been added, had it not been for media enquiries to the Judicial Office.

Claims by a Judicial Office spokesperson of a year long “clerical error” significantly conflict with former Lord President Lord Gill’s evidence to the Public Petitions Committee on how the Register of Judicial Recusals was maintained by Court staff and clerks.

On 10 November 2015, Lord Brian Gill appeared before MSPs at Holyrood, and stated in the official record : “There are two points to make in answer to that. One is that the register of recusals is not voluntary. To the best of my knowledge, the clerks of court are scrupulously accurate in keeping the register and therefore, wherever there is a recusal, you may depend upon its being recorded in the register.”

Lord Gill – Court clerks should handle info on judicial interests, not a public register

The Register of Recusals was created by Lord Brian Gill in April 2014 as a response to a probe by the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee’s deliberations on Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

The proposal, first debated at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in January 2013 – calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests – containing information on judges’ backgrounds, figures relating to personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

A full debate on the proposal to require judges to declare their interests was held at the Scottish Parliament on 9 October 2014 – ending in a motion calling on the Scottish Government to create a register of judicial interests. The motion was overwhelmingly supported by MSPs from all political parties.

The move by Lord Gill to create the Register of Recusals was aimed at dissuading MSPs from continuing an investigation into the secretive world of judicial influence, interests, and failures to declare conflicts of interest in court.

However, the investigation continued, and is now in it’s fifth year.

Gill, who eventually gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in November 2015, – available to watch in full here – Evidence of Lord Gill before the Scottish Parliament 10 November 2015 – came in for criticism after he demanded MSPs come to a decision and close the petition on his say-so during the stormy evidence session..

Throughout the meeting, the retired Lord President angrily remonstrated with Committee members who asked him detailed questions on interests and the conduct of Scottish judges.

At one point, Lord Gill gave a misleading answer to the then MSP John Wilson – who quizzed the Lord President on judicial suspensions.

And, in responses to independent MSP John Wilson, Lord Gill dismissed media reports on scandals within the judiciary and brushed aside evidence from Scotland’s independent Judicial Complaints Reviewers – Moi Ali & Gillian Thompson OBE – both of whom previously gave evidence to MSPs in support of a register of judges’ interests.

Facing further questions from John WIlson MSP on the appearance of Lord Gill’s former Private Secretary Roddy Flinn, the top judge angrily denied Mr Flinn was present as a witness – even though papers prepared by the Petitions Committee and published in advance said so. The top judge grimaced: “The agenda is wrong”.

And, in a key moment during further questions from committee member Mr Wilson on the integrity of the judiciary, Lord Gill angrily claimed he had never suspended any judicial office holders.

The top judge was then forced to admit he had suspended judicial office holders after being reminded of the suspension of Sheriff Peter Watson.

A statement issued by Lord Gill at the time of Watson’s suspension said: “The Lord President concluded that in the circumstances a voluntary de-rostering was not appropriate and that suspension was necessary in order to maintain public confidence in the judiciary.”

In an angry exchange with MSP Jackson Carlaw, Lord Gill demanded to control the kinds of questions he was being asked. Replying to Lord Gill,  Mr Carlaw said he would ask his own questions instead of ones suggested to him by the judge.

Several times during the hearing, the retired top judge demanded MSPs show a sign of trust in the judiciary by closing down the petition.

During the hearing Lord Gill also told MSPs Scotland should not be out of step with the rest of the UK on how judges’ interests are kept secret from the public.

Questioned on the matter of judicial recusals, Gill told MSPs he preferred court clerks should handle information on judicial interests rather than the details appearing in a publicly available register of interests.

Lord Gill also slammed the transparency of judicial appointments in the USA – after it was drawn to his attention judges in the United States are required to register their interests.

In angry exchanges, Lord Gill accused American judges of being elected by corporate and vested interests and said he did not want to see that here.

However, the situation is almost identical in Scotland where Scottish judges who refuse to disclose their interests, are elected by legal vested interests with hidden links to corporations.

After the hearing was over, Gill was branded ‘aggressive’ by the then Committee Convener over his evidence to MSPs.

On Thursday 29 June, the Public Petitions Committee at Holyrood will hear from Scotland’s current Lord President, Lord Carloway – who wrote to MSPs last November stating he was under the impression Holyrood had closed the petition.

Carloway later demanded the Committee provide him with a list of questions he was to be asked if he agreed to appear before the full Committee in public.

Since the exchanges last year, it has taken a further eight months to arrange Carloway’s appearance before MSPs next week.

The hearing at Holyrood with Lord Carloway comes in between a busy schedule for the Lord President – which saw Lord Carloway and many other members of the judiciary fly to various overseas destinations including a £4K public cash funded trip to the USA for the Lord President, and handing out judicial jobs including a £180K a year seat on the Court of Session bench to controversial former Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland.

Full list of Judicial Recusals from March 2014 to 12 June 2017

DATE COURT (TYPE OF ACTION) NAME REASON FOR RECUSAL

24.3.2014 Livingston Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff Edington Sheriff drew to the parties’ attention a possible difficulty, namely the wife of one of the other resident Sheriffs was the author of a report contained with the process. The Sheriff asked parties if they wished him to recuse himself. The defenders, having considered the issue,made a motion for the Sheriff to recuse himself, which he then did.

8.4.2014 Forfar Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Veal Sheriff personally known to a witness

10.4.2014 Selkirk Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff Paterson Sheriff had previously acted for a client in dispute against Pursuer

23.4.2014 High Court (Criminal) Lady Wise Senator had previously acted for a relative of accused

16.4.2014 Glasgow Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Cathcart Sheriff personally known to a witness

13.5.2014 Haddington Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff Braid Known to pursuer’s family

14.5.2014 High Court(Criminal Appeal) Judge MacIver Conflict of interest

20.5.2014 Court of Session (Civil) Lord Matthews Senator personally known to a witness

19.6.2014 Dingwall Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff McPartlin Sheriff presided over a trial involving the accused, where the issue to which the new case relates was spoken to by a witness

20.6.2014 Elgin Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Raeburn QC Accused appeared before Sheriff as a witness in recent trial relating to same incident

24.6.2014 Glasgow Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Crozier Sheriff personally known to proprietor of premises libelled in the charge

26.6.2014 Court of Session (Civil) Lord President Relative of Senator acts for the respondent

27.8.2014 Court of Session (Civil) Lord Brailsford Senator personally known to husband of the pursuer

28.8.2014 Oban Sheriff Court (Civil & Criminal) Sheriff Small Sheriff personally known to a party

22.10.2014 Aberdeen Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Cowan Sheriff drew to parties’ attention that she was a member of the RSPB before commencement of a trial as the case involved an investigation carried out by the RSPB and many witnesses were RSPB officers. She invited parties to consider whether she should take the trial. The defenders, having considered the issue, made a motion for the Sheriff to recuse herself, which she then did.

8.12.2014 Alloa Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff Mackie Contemporaneous and overlapping proceedings comprising an appeal and a referral from the children’s hearing relating to children from the same family

16.12.2014 Court of Session (Civil) Lady Clark of Calton Senator personally known to parties of the action.

22.01.2015 Edinburgh Sheriff Court (Extradition) Sheriff MacIver Sheriff involved in case at earlier stage of procedure 30.01.2015 Dumfries Sheriff Court(Civil)Sheriff Jamieson Sheriff had previously dealt with the issue under dispute

06.02.2015 Greenock Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff Fleming Previous professional relationship between Sheriff’s former firm of solicitors and the defender

09.02.2015 Glasgow High Court (Criminal) Lady Scott Due to a previous ruling made by the Senator in relation to a separate indictment against the accused

10.02.2015 Court of Session (Civil) Lord Jones Due to a previous finding by the Senator in relation to an expert witness whose evidence is crucial to the pursuer’s case

13.03.2015 Aberdeen Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Cowan Accused known by the Sheriff as a regular observer of court proceedings from the public gallery

17.03.2015 Forfar Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Di Emidio Sheriff personally known to a witness

18.03.2015 Lerwick Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Mann Circumstances may give rise to a suggestion of bias

16.04.2015 Edinburgh Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff Arthurson QC Personally known to a party of the action

12.05.2015 Court of Session (Civil) Lord Boyd of Duncansby Senator was Lord Advocate when a successful prosecution was brought against one of the respondents

14.05.2015 Edinburgh Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff McColl Sheriff personally known to a party of the action

27.05.2015 Edinburgh Sheriff Court(Civil) Sheriff Crowe Sheriff had previously dealt a case in which the defender was a witness

29.05.2015 Glasgow Sheriff Court (FAI) Sheriff Principal Scott QC Sheriff Principal personally known to one of the deceased

04.06.2015 Court of Session (Civil) Lord Glennie Senator an acquaintance of a party to the action

04.06.2015 Court of Session (Civil) Lord Burns Previously acted as defence counsel in a criminal trial involving the pursuer.

24.07.2015 Edinburgh Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Maciver Sheriff personally known to a party in the case

11.08.2015 Banff Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Mann Sheriff personally known to a party of the action, having previously acted on behalf of the family while in private practice.

28.08.2015 Dundee Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Murray Sheriff personally known to a witness.

03.09.2015 Dumbarton Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff Turnbull Sheriff previously acted for a client in a dispute against the pursuer

04.09.2015 Edinburgh Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff Mackie Sheriff involved in a dispute against a party to the action

15.09.2015 Aberdeen Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Stirling Sheriff previously considered and refused issues which the accused wished to revisit

01.10.2015 Aberdeen Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Taylor Sheriff was privy to certain information which related to the accused’s credibility

08.10.2015 Lanark Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Stewart Accused made complaints against staff and sheriff

12.10.2015 Court of Session (Civil) Lady Clark of Calton Senator an acquaintance of a party to the action

20.10.2015 Inverness Sheriff Court (Civil)Sheriff Sutherland Personally known to a party of the action

20.10.2015 Glasgow Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Crozier Personally known to a director of accused company

12.11.2015 Court of Session (Civil) Lord Malcolm Senator acted as senior counsel for the defenders in a related action

18.11.2015 Court of Session (Civil) Lord Boyd of Duncansby Relatives of Senator involved in the action

26.11.2015 Inverness Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff Fleetwood Personally known to a party of the action

27.11.2015 Court of Session (Civil) Lady Paton Her Ladyship was on the bench in a criminal appeal against conviction by the pursuer

09.12.2015 Wick Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Berry Complainer personally known to resident sheriff

22.12.2015 Lanark Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff Stewart Personally known to both parties of the action

26/01/2016 Court of Session Lord Uist Judge dealt with same issue and same witnesses in a case being appealed

27/01/2016 Dumbarton Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Gallacher On the Pursuer’s motion in relation to a decision in a preliminary hearing

09/02/2016 Elgin Sheriff Court (criminal) Sheriff Pasportnikov Sheriff previously presided over related case

10/02/2016 Elgin Sheriff Court (criminal) Sheriff Pasportnikov Sheriff previously presided over criminal matter involving complainter

24/02/2016 Glasgow Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Reid Sheriff personally known to a witness

18/03/2106 Edinburgh Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Ross Sheriff previously presided over criminal matter involving appellant

18/03/2016 Aberdeen Sherirff Court (criminal) Sheriff Stirling Sheriff previously presided over civil matter involving accused

25/04/2016 Ayr Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Montgomery Sheriff previously acted for defender as a solicitor

03/05/2016 Lanark Sheriff Court (criminal) Sheriff Stewart Complainer previously represented by Sheriff’s husband

20/05/2016 Court of Session Lord Bracadale On the pursuer’s motion in relation to the judge’s previous decision to refuse the pursuer’s appeal at a procedural hearing

22/06/2016 Perth Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Clapham Pursuer known to sheriff

09/08/2016 Dunoon Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Ward Sheriff personally known to a witness

19/08/2016 Greenock Sheriff Court (criminal) Sheriff Ward Accused known to sheriff from Sheriff’s time in private practice

23/08/2016 Aberdeen Sheriff Court (criminal) Sheriff Stirling Sheriff Stirling found against the accused company in a civil matter and wrote on same

13/09/2016 Court of Session Lord Pentland The Lord Ordinary previously acted for the first named defender

25/10/2016 Court of Session Lord Brailsford A close relative is employed by one of the parties involved in the case

10/11/2016 Kilmarnock Sheriff Court (criminal) Sheriff Foran Sheriff personally known to a witness

17/11/2016 Dumfries Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Jamieson Sheriff previously presided over a related civil proof in another case in which parties were witnesses

18/11/2016 Court of Session (civil) Lord Glennie Earlier decision on a related issue might reasonably be thought to influence any decision in the present case

30/11/2016 Perth Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff McFarlane Sheriff acted for pursuers when practising as a solicitor

30/01/2017 Edinburgh Sheriff Court (criminal) Sheriff Crowe Sheriff previously presided over criminal matter involving accused, which might reasonably be thought to influence any decision in the present case

13/02/2017 Portree Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Taylor QC Sheriff previously dealt with a criminal case involving parties

23/02/2017 Inverness Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Fleetwood Sheriff presided over a jury trial involving parties

29/03/2017 Perth Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Wade QC The sheriff, in her previous role as advocate depute, was heavily involved in preparing the prosecution of one of the parties in the action

06/04/2017 Kilmarnock Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Foran A witness was a former client of the sheriff in previous role in private practice

04/05/2017 Elgin Sheriff Court (criminal) Sheriff Pasportnikov Previous knowledge of the parties through a Children’s Hearing matter

16/05/2017 Banff Sheriff Court (criminal) Sheriff Mann Sheriff personally known to relatives of the accused

12/06/2017 Glasgow Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Platt Sheriff personally known to a witness

Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations by Diary of Injustice including reports from the Sunday Herald and Sunday Mail newspapers, and video footage of debates at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee can be found here : A Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary.

 

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GONE KREMLIN: Chair of Scottish Police Authority resigns, lingers in office ‘until replacement found’ for discredited Police watchdog – focus now moves to ‘collective amnesia’ board who failed to support transparency crusading colleague

Scottish police board chief Andrew Flanagan resigns. A SCANDAL involving poor governance and accusations of secrecy at the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) has finally led to the resignation of  the Police watchdog’s embattled Chairman – after a series of bruising encounters before two Scottish Parliament committees.

Andrew Flanagan, who was appointed Chair of the Scottish Police Authority in 2015 – announced his decision to resign from the role earlier this week on Wednesday, citing recent media and Parliamentary attention on his disagreement with a former board member and perceptions around SPA transparency.

The statement, issued by the SPA said Mr Flanagan has concluded that debate on these issues risks distracting policing from important work underway on strategy and finance and that it is in the best interests of policing in Scotland that he stand down.

In his resignation letter to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Mr Flanagan offered to continue in post until a successor is appointed by Scottish Ministers, and to ensure there is no delay in implementing the Policing 2026 strategy and underpinning financial deficit reduction plans.

Mr Flanagan said: “Recent events have focussed on my disagreement with a board member and perceptions of a wider lack of transparency in the SPA. I have apologised to the former board member and put in place changes to the governance processes of the SPA. There are many serious challenges faced by policing in Scotland, but the continued media and Parliamentary debate on these issues risks coming a prolonged distraction.

“With a strategic direction for the service well in train and the right mix of leadership in Police Scotland to deliver it, I do not wish the ongoing debate to get in the way as we move into the implementation phase. I have therefore taken the decision that it would be in the best interests of policing if I were to step down from my role as Chair of the SPA.

“The next few months will involve an intensive period of work to develop implementation plans and effective governance structures to manage and oversee the transformation programme. To avoid any hiatus or delay, I have indicated to the Cabinet Secretary that I would be willing to stay on until he appoints a successor and to ensure an orderly handover.

“I take pride in being a part of this chapter of policing history in Scotland, and for the personal successes I have had since taking up the role in 2015 – in particular shaping a long-term strategy for Police Scotland, recruiting a new Chief Constable and senior leadership team, and setting a clear direction for bringing financial sustainability.

“As a result, I am confident that the single police service in Scotland now has a solid platform from which to build an even better service for the people of Scotland. I hope that is a position on which we can build both consensus and momentum.”

The full text of Andrew Flanagan’s resignation letter to Justice Secretary Michael Matheson is as follows:

Since taking up my role as Chair of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) in 2015, I have made significant progress on a number of fronts. These successes include creating a long-term strategy for Police Scotland, recruiting a new Chief Constable and re-shaping the senior team at Police Scotland, determining the financial position and setting a clear direction for bringing financial sustainability and significantly improving policing’s engagement at community and local level. I have also reshaped the SPA board ensuring we have a much-improved mix of skills to address the challenges policing has faced. The improvements to the governance of C3 and the full recovery of the monies spent on I6 are further examples of progress and I am pleased to say we have avoided similar controversies to those which arose in the early years of the SPA and Police Scotland.

Notwithstanding these successes, recent events have focussed on my disagreement with a board member and concerns that by discussing with the Board issues raised by HMICS rather than copying his letter this was indicative of a wider lack of transparency, which of course is not the case. To remedy these issues, I have apologised to the former board member and put in place changes to the governance processes of the SPA to ensure there can be no perception of a lack of openness. Despite the limited nature of these matters and at a time when serious challenges are faced by policing in Scotland, there has been prolonged and continued debate in the media and in Parliament. This is not helpful to the SPA or policing more generally and is proving a distraction to the important work we are undertaking.

Last week, I submitted to you the final version of our 10 year strategy, Policing 2026, for your consideration and agreement. We have also recently finalised the senior team at Police Scotland with the appointments of the Finance and HR Directors. With these two important elements in place I do not wish the ongoing debate to get in the way as we move into implementation of the strategy and take the necessary steps to reduce the deficit. In addition, the debate has become quite personalised and has impacted on me and my family. This is not something that I wish to endure further. I have therefore taken the decision that it would be in the best interests of policing if I were to step down from my role as Chair of the SPA.

The next few months will involve an intensive period of work to develop the implementation plans and associated investment and financing plans. Further, we need to build project management capability and the governance structures to manage and oversee the transformation programme. Delivery of the initial cost reductions to meet the deficit reduction targets is also required. To avoid a hiatus or delay I would be willing to continue as Chair until you find a successor and we can have an orderly hand-over.

I would like to place on record my thanks to my Board for their support over the last few weeks. I would also like to take the opportunity to thank you for your support during my time as Chair. I am confident that policing now has a solid platform from which to build an even better service and that the benefits of delivering on the aims of a single service are achievable.

In response to Mr Flanagan’s carefully arranged resignation letter, strikingly offered just over a week from a general election, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson issued a letter to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit and Post Legislative Scrutiny Committee, and the Justice Committee confirming the SPA Chair’s resignation.

The text of Justice Secretary Michael Matheson letter to both Scottish Parliament committees, in full:

Dear Acting Convener and Convener,

I am writing in response to letters regarding the Scottish Police Authority from the Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee (12 May and 7 June 2017) and Justice Sub­committee on Policing (25 May 2017).

A key issue raised by both Committees is the position of the Chair of the SPA. I have been advised by the Chair that he is announcing today that he plans to step down from his role once a successor is appointed. I am grateful to Andrew for his contribution to policing and the significant progress that has been made in establishing the future direction of policing. However I understand and accept his reasons for stepping down and welcome his commitment to providing continuity until a successor is appointed. That process will start as soon as possible. Continuity will be important over the coming months as SPA is in the process of finalising the Policing 2026 strategy and putting implementation plans in place. It would not be in anyone’s interest for SPA to be without a Chair during this period.

As you are both aware, the SPA has already set out a number of planned changes relating to transparency and openness which I know the Committees will welcome. For example, the SPA Board has agreed to hold its Committees in public while recognising – in line with On Board – the need to hold some items in private; papers are now published on the SPA website in advance of meetings; and all formal correspondence from HMICS and Audit Scotland will now be circulated to all Board members as a matter of routine.

A number of the issues raised by the Committees will also be further explored as part of the inspection by HMICS to assess openness and transparency in the way that the SPA conducts its business. As you are aware, HMICS agreed to bring forward this part of their review at my request. It is due to report to Parliament on 22 June and I am sure we all await this report with interest.

In addition to this, I have also announced a review of the ways in which the SPA Board can be better supported to deliver its statutory functions – including:

• how the executive of SPA works with Police Scotland to collectively provide the information required to support the Board take informed, transparent decisions in the context of the guidance set out in “On Board: A guide for Members of Statutory Boards;

• how the arrangements for engaging stakeholders in the work of the Authority can be strengthened;

• the staffing and operating structure that fulfils the aim of providing the most effective support to the Board;

• areas where processes could be improved.

It will be jointly led by the SPA deputy chair Nicola Marchant and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar Chief Executive Malcolm Burr who will provide an independent perspective..

Your respective correspondences also highlighted some detailed points which I will now address.

Steps to ensure Board members understand the practical implications of the On Board guidance

As the PAPLS Committee heard in evidence from members of the SPA Board, those appointed to public bodies receive a copy of On Board as part of their induction. Since 2016, the Scottish Government has implemented a corporate induction for new Board members to support them as they step into their roles. This provides an opportunity for Board members – through networking and inputs from a range of speakers – to explore the practical implications of the On Board guidance. This is part of a rolling programme of networking and peer-learning activities for those involved in public body governance around topics related to On Board, including events for Chairs and development days for Board members. On Board is clear that part of the role of a Board member is to question and, as necessary, challenge proposals made by other Board members.

Information flows between Police Scotland and SPA

My reading of the evidence provided by Mr Graham to PAPLS was that he viewed these as much improved from the position he experienced in his early days on the Board. Again, my first-hand experience is that relationships are much improved and the challenge now will be to ensure that continues. Nevertheless, I am sure there is always scope for further improvement in this area.

The extent to which Scottish Government has prior knowledge of SPA meetings and papers As highlighted by officials in evidence to the PAPLS Committee, the Scottish Government is responsible for the policy and legislative framework for policing and Safer Communities Directorate is the sponsoring directorate, meaning that they have a proper and legitimate interest in SPA’s work. Issues discussed at the Board frequently result in the Scottish Government being asked to comment publically on the substance of the matter. Early sight of papers is therefore of value in the work that officials do in supporting Ministers. I would, however, refute any suggestion that the Scottish Government is using this information to control or dictate the agendas for SPA meetings. Indeed, my view is that the evidence presented to the PAPLS Committee on this point was noticeably lacking in detail and substance.

The number of days worked by Board members

In terms of effective scrutiny and best value, there is a balance to be struck between time and cost. Although the guidance is for a maximum of 5 days a month, there is flexibility at the discretion of the Chair to go beyond this upper limit if there is good reason to do so. I view this as a reasonable approach.

The need to improve diversity on Boards

I agree that there is a need to improve diversity on Boards and Scottish Government is taking positive action to ensure that public appointments are accessible and attractive to the broadest range of talent across Scotland. We have, for example, made notable success in redressing the gender imbalance in recent years with, overall, 45% of our Board positions now held by women. I wrote to the Chair of the SPA on 26 April asking him to consider taking forward activities that would support a diverse range of future potential Board members, including for example co-opting people onto Committees.

Information on the process for the appraisal of the SPA Chair

Guidance for the appraisal of Chairs and Board members is set out in the attached link: http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2017/02/6844. Given the significance of the SPA as a public body, the Chair’s assessment is carried out by DG Learning and Justice. The Chair’s high level objectives for the current year are:

• LEADERSHIP / GOVERNANCE: Drive forward the SPA to become an effective, high performing public body.

• STRATEGY / DELIVERY: Work in partnership with Police Scotland to maintain momentum on the 2026 strategy to develop – and then deliver against – the final strategy, implementation plan and financial plans.

• RELATIONSHIPS / REPUTATION: Establish good relationships which enhance the reputation of the Scottish Police Authority and improve outcomes for the people of Scotland.

• FINANCE / FINANCIAL RESILIENCE: Ensure that the Accountable Officer and Police Scotland are held effectively to account for enhancing the financial capability, capacity and leadership with a strong strategic approach to financial planning.

Within Leadership / Governance, progress I expect to see includes an effective review of the SPA corporate governance framework, taking account of the feedback received, and making demonstrable progress towards the commitment of 50:50 by 2020.

Information requests to SPA by Ms AH

Scottish Government officials have been encouraging (and continue to encourage) SPA to be as helpful as they can be in dealing with Ms Ali’s requests for information. Ultimately, SPA has the responsibility to respond in a way that is consistent with the appropriate legislation and agreed processes.

Conclusion

I believe I have addressed all of the issues raised by the committees and, as noted above, we await the conclusions of HMICS’ initial work on governance and transparency issues, scheduled for publication on 22 June.

Copies of this response have been sent to – Andrew Flanagan, SPA Chair; John Foley, SPA Chief Executive; Derek Penman FIMICS; Paul Johnstone, Scottish Government DG Learning and Justice; and Margaret Mitchell, convener of the Justice Committee.

The review – referred to by Andrew Flanagan and the JUstice Secretary, is to be jointly led by Nicola Marchant – appointed as deputy chairwoman by the current board which includes Andrew Flanagan, and Malcolm Burr, chief executive of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

It will report back to Mr Matheson in the autumn.

Speaking to the media Mary Fee, convener of the justice sub-committee which was the first to declare it had no confidence in Mr Flanagan’s leadership, said “openness and transparency have decreased during his time as chair of the SPA”.

She said: “We should view this as an opportunity to work proactively with the SPA to put in place a chair who will lead the board in an open, transparent manner and take the SPA forward.”

Jackie Baillie, acting convener of the public audit committee which led much of the questioning, said there had been “serious concerns” about Mr Flangan’s leadership.

She said: “With the announcement of his resignation today, we hope the SPA will now head in the right direction and put an end to its culture of secrecy. This is desperately needed in order to restore public confidence.”

Mr Flanagan’s resignation was welcomed by political parties, with Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson saying the move was “needed to allow the correct focus on oversight and delivery”.

Labour’s justice spokeswoman Claire Baker said it “must only be the start of the complete overhaul that is needed at the top of the SPA”.

Green MSP John Finnie said Mr Flanagan “should have resigned weeks ago”, while Lib Dem Liam McArthur said “serious damage has already been done to the reputation of the organisation”.

TRANSPARENCY FIRST: Former Board member Moi Ali spoke out on transparency concerns at Police Watchdog:

A glimpse into the world of the Scottish Police Authority’s board meetings features an excerpt from the SPA’s meeting of 15 December 2016, in which Board Member Moi Ali raised serious concerns about recommendations in relation to the publication on the day of board meetings and the holding of committees in private.

More on the discussion around the Governance Framework and input from Moi Ali who raised her concerns at the meeting can be viewed here:

Scottish Police Authority 15 December 2016 meeting Governance framework discussion

Ms Ali said she understood there were good reasons for those recommendations she had serious concerns about the lack of transparency around the two proposals, and that there were real drawbacks in relation to holding committee meetings in private.

Moi Ali said her concerns were two fold – the perception issue in relation to private meetings where it may be perceived that decisions may be taken behind closed doors, and that defacto decision may well be taken behind closed doors and that the process of decision making will be hidden and there is a danger in due course this will morph into a different kind of body in which effectively real decisions are taken albeit not in name but then come back to the SPA Board for rubber stamping rather than transparent debate.

UNFIT AUTHORITY: – Crisis continues at Scottish Police Authority after Board members criticise MSPs scrutiny of Cop Quango:

SPA Chair Andrew Flanagan’s decision to stay in the lead role at the now discredited Scottish Police Authority comes after one of it’s Board members – Graham Houston – launched a blistering attack on open hearings at the Scottish Parliament’s PAPLS Committee’ – after it’s members quizzed the Chair & CEO of the SPA, along with Scottish Government Civil Servants at an earlier meeting of 20 April 2017.

Scottish Police Authority Board Member Graham Houston hits out at PAPLS scrutiny of Police Watchdog

Critisising MSPs scrutiny of the Scottish Police Authority, Board member Graham Houston said: “I also think as an example of good governance I think the treatment of my fellow board members by an audit and scrutiny committee was frankly appalling and I think if that is an example of what is expected of good scrutiny it leaves a lot to be desired. And I suggest that the members of that committee look to themselves about setting an example and also look to the guidance on board about how they conduct themselves in doing that.”

Mr Houston then attacked the media, accusing the press of abusing the ‘openness’ of the SPA and concludes by stating “I think that what will transpire is that probably we are one of the most open public authorities in Scotland.”

The SPA’s statement on the outcome of the meeting claimed it had strengthened the transparency and accessibility of its governance arrangements by making a number of revisions to Board and committee meetings and publication of papers.

The changes decided at the meeting, which will come in to effect from 1 June 2017 include:

SPA committee meetings held in public, with items taken in private only when necessary and with a clear articulation of the reason.

The publication of agendas for all public Board and committee meetings will be available on the SPA website 7 days in advance of meetings.

The publication of papers for all public Board and committee meetings will be published on the SPA website (under embargo) 3-working days in advance.

The publication of agendas for closed Board and committee meetings will be published on the SPA website (redacted if necessary) and a summary of the business conducted will be reported to the next public Board meeting.

The public will also have the opportunity to pose questions about policing matters to the SPA Board in advance of meetings.

In addition, the SPA Board has established a new Deputy Chair role. Nicola Marchant has been unanimously appointed to that position with immediate effect.

Full details of the changes and next steps agreed by the Board are outlined in the following paper: http://www.spa.police.uk/assets/126884/400419/governance

Houston’s criticism of the refers to the following hearing, in which evidence revealed to MSPs portrayed the Scottish Police Authority as a haven of secrecy, run in the style of  a “kremlin” operation – according to former Cabinet Secretary & PAPLS member Alex Neil MSP (SNP):

Scottish Police Authority – Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee – Scottish Parliament: 20th April 2017

A full report on the PAPLS meeting of 20 April can be found here: POLICING SECRETS: Former Scottish Police Authority board member Moi Ali invited to give evidence at Holyrood, after MSPs accuse SPA bosses of running Police watchdog like Kremlin ‘secret society’

A further appearance of current and former board members of the Scottish Police Authority before Holyrood’s PAPLS Committee on the 11th May – established evidence in relation to a sequence of alarming events at the SPA – giving MSPs significant cause for concern of how the SPA Chair was in effect, personally running the Police watchdog as a “secret society”.

Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee – Scottish Parliament: 11th May 2017

A full report on the PAPLS hearing of 11 May can be found here: UNFIT AUTHORITY: Chair of Scottish Police Authority “is not fit to continue on any public board” – says former SPA board member in evidence to Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee scrutiny of Police watchdog

The hearing also established not one board member of the now discredited Police Watchdog backed former board member Moi Ali – who was forced to resign from the SPA after she bravely raised issues of transparency and accountability during a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority in December 2016.

Then, at a hearing of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice sub-committee on Policing, Andrew Flanagan was asked by MSPs several times to consider his position as SPA Chair – yet Flanagan refused each call to stand down and allow the Scottish Police Authority to move on from the current crisis.

Justice Sub-Committee on Policing – Scottish Parliament: 18th May 2017

A more detailed report on the 18th May 2017 hearing of the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing can be found here: AUTHORITY LOST: Chair of Scottish Police Authority refuses to resign after facing challenge from Justice Committee MSPs to consider his position on discredited Police watchdog

SLOW SECRETARY: Justice Secretary Michael Matheson was criticised for lack of action in Police watchdog governance crisis

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson ducked out of taking immediate action on tackling the leadership & governance crisis at the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) – despite calls from across the political spectrum to act on restoring faith at the discredited regulator of Police Scotland.

During ‘Topical Questions’ at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday 30 May 2017, MSPs from all parties called for a resolution to the crisis at the Police Regulator, and Andrew Flanagan’s refusal to step aside.

In response, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said he was “conscious of the issues” and promised to consider the reports sent to him by the committees.

In Holyrood’s main chamber, Mary Fee MSP (Scottish Labour) told Michael Matheson that Andrew Flanagan had “lost the confidence of MSPs from all parties, including back benchers from the governing party.

“It is clear that his position is untenable. It seems that Mr Flanagan and the Justice Secretary are the last two people to see that.”

She called for a “drastic overhaul of how the SPA is run”.

Shying away from immediate action on the crisis at the Scottish Police Authority, Matheson replied: “I am sure that the member will recognise that it is important that ministers give thorough consideration to these issues in coming to a determination,”

The Justice Secretary added: “On the wider issue of the governance and structure of the SPA, there is no doubt that there are aspects of the way in which the SPA has operated over the past few years that have not worked as well as they should have and that there are areas in which I believe further improvements could be made.

“I have been clear about the need for the SPA to operate in an open and transparent manner as it undertakes its processes and considers matters, and I have repeatedly made that clear.”

Questions to Justice Secretary Michael Matheson on Scottish Police Authority & Andrew Flanagan 30 May 2017

A full report on MSPs questions to Justice Secretary Michael Matheson can be viewed here: Justice Secretary dodges call to fire Chair of discredited Scottish Police Authority – as cross party MSPs say Andrew Flanagan’s position is untenable, and crisis will impact on diversity, recruitment & transparency at public bodies

Previous articles on the Scottish Police Authority can be found here: Scottish Police Authority – Poor governance, private meetings & lack of accountability at Police regulator

 

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IT’S GOOD TO GO: Justice Secretary dodges call to fire Chair of discredited Scottish Police Authority – as cross party MSPs say Andrew Flanagan’s position is untenable, and crisis will impact on diversity, recruitment & transparency at public bodies

SPA Chair still in post as Justice Secretary delays action ‘to consider reports’. SCOTLAND’S Justice Secretary has ducked out of taking immediate action on tackling the leadership & governance crisis at the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) – despite calls from across the political spectrum to act on restoring faith at the discredited regulator of Police Scotland.

During ‘Topical Questions’ at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday of this week, where MSPs from all parties called for a resolution to the crisis at the Police Regulator, and Andrew Flanagan’s refusal to step aside, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said he was “conscious of the issues” and promised to consider the reports sent to him by the committees.

In Holyrood’s main chamber on Tuesday, Mary Fee MSP (Scottish Labour) told Michael Matheson that Andrew Flanagan had “lost the confidence of MSPs from all parties, including back benchers from the governing party.

“It is clear that his position is untenable. It seems that Mr Flanagan and the Justice Secretary are the last two people to see that.”

She called for a “drastic overhaul of how the SPA is run”.

Shying away from immediate action on the crisis at the Scottish Police Authority, Matheson replied: “I am sure that the member will recognise that it is important that ministers give thorough consideration to these issues in coming to a determination,”

The Justice Secretary added: “On the wider issue of the governance and structure of the SPA, there is no doubt that there are aspects of the way in which the SPA has operated over the past few years that have not worked as well as they should have and that there are areas in which I believe further improvements could be made.

“I have been clear about the need for the SPA to operate in an open and transparent manner as it undertakes its processes and considers matters, and I have repeatedly made that clear.”

LibDem MSP Liam McArthur argued that the SPA would “be inhibited in moving forward as long as he remains the chair”.

The Greens’ John Finnie suggested Flanagan’s managerial style, and the way in which he reportedly treated Ali, a woman of Bengali and Irish descent, would dissuade women and ethnic minority people to join public boards.

The Justice Committee expressed “very serious concerns about the standards of governance” at the body and said it “does not have confidence that the current chair is the best person to lead the board”.

Full report & video coverage of questions to Justice Secretary Michael Matheson at the Scottish Parliament:

Questions to Justice Secretary Michael Matheson on Scottish Police Authority & Andrew Flanagan 30 May 2017

Topical Question Time: Scottish Police Authority (Meetings)

1. Mary Fee (West Scotland) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Government when the Cabinet Secretary for Justice last met the Scottish Police Authority and what issues were discussed. (S5T-00571)

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Michael Matheson): I have regular meetings with the chair of the Scottish Police Authority and meet the board approximately once a year. We discuss a range of key strategic issues in policing.

Mary Fee: As the cabinet secretary is aware, last week, the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing published its report on the governance of the SPA. That report says: “the Sub-Committee does not have confidence that the current chair is the best person to lead the Board.”

That follows similar concerns from the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee.

We know that, under the current leadership of Andrew Flanagan, public meetings were held in private and critical letters were hidden from board members, and we have heard about the disgraceful ousting of now former board member, Moi Ali.

Andrew Flanagan was appointed chair of the SPA to improve openness and accountability. He has failed. Does the cabinet secretary agree with me, with the Justice Sub-committee on Policing and with his own back benchers that Mr Flanagan’s position is untenable and that he should go?

Michael Matheson: I am conscious of the issues that have been raised by the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing, which provided us with a copy of its report last Thursday. As I am sure that the member will recognise, we will give careful consideration to that report and its findings, along with the issues that have been highlighted by the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee and the evidence that that committee and the member’s sub-committee received. Once we have considered all those issues, we will be in a position to state clearly the Government’s response and our decision on the position of the chair of the SPA.

I am sure that the member will recognise that it is important that the ministers and Government consider these issues carefully. I can give the member an absolute assurance that we will consider the findings in the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing’s report as we arrive at the Scottish Government’s position on this matter.

Mary Fee: Andrew Flanagan has lost the confidence of MSPs from all parties, including back benchers from the governing party. It is clear that his position is untenable. It seems that Mr Flanagan and the justice secretary are the last two people to see that. We need a drastic overhaul of how the SPA is run, and that must start at the very top of the SPA board. We need leadership from the SPA, but we do not have that at the moment.

If Andrew Flanagan is not going to do the right thing and resign, we need leadership from the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government approved Andrew Flanagan’s appointment as chair. If the cabinet secretary will not withdraw that now, I simply ask what it will take for the Government to take action.

Michael Matheson: I have given the member an assurance that we will consider the findings of her sub-committee’s report. Once we have had the opportunity to consider them in detail, as well as the issues that have been raised by the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee, we will be able to respond to these matters. I am sure that the member will recognise that it is important that ministers give thorough consideration to these issues in coming to a determination.

On the wider issue of the SPA’s structure, and the way in which the SPA operates, the member will be aware that I have asked Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary for Scotland to bring forward the governance aspect of its statutory inspection that was due to take place this year. HMICS has agreed to do that and intends to publish a report by 22 June on those issues. In its letter to me, the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee welcomed my decision to ask for that work to be undertaken.

It is important that we consider these issues, and I assure the member that we are considering them carefully, and we want to ensure that they are appropriately addressed.

On the wider issue of the governance and structure of the SPA, there is no doubt that there are aspects of the way in which the SPA has operated over the past few years that have not worked as well as they should have and that there are areas in which I believe further improvements could be made.

I have been clear about the need for the SPA to operate in an open and transparent manner as it undertakes its processes and considers matters, and I have repeatedly made that clear. However, there is no doubt that there have been improvements in the way in which the SPA has been operating. For example, as was set out in evidence that was given to the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee, there have been improvements in the way in which the SPA has considered issues such as the contact, command and control division; improvements in the relationship between the SPA and the executive team in Police Scotland; and improvements in the way in which it has taken forward work on the development of the 2026 strategy.

Irrespective of that, I recognise the concerns that have been expressed by the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing and members of the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee. I give the member an assurance that they will be considered carefully, and that the Government will come to a decision once it has considered all these matters.

Douglas Ross (Highlands and Islands) (Con): The evidence from the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing, the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee, MSPs of all parties and, indeed, former board members is clear: Andrew Flanagan’s time as chair of the Scottish Police Authority should be over, and his continuation in that post is untenable. Does the Scottish Government continue to have full faith in Andrew Flanagan as chair of the Scottish Police Authority—yes or no?

Michael Matheson: As I have just said to Mary Fee, we will consider the findings of both committees’ work in this area and we will then come to a decision on this issue.

I am surprised that a member who is, apparently, his party’s spokesman on justice would not want to ensure that we go through due process in considering these issues. It is important that Government ministers give careful consideration to these issues when coming to a decision, and that is exactly what we will do. Once we have completed that process, we will set out our decision on this matter.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green): It is my personal view that Mr Flanagan’s position is untenable and that he must go. The cabinet secretary will agree that we must have vibrant and diverse public boards. In his response to both committee reports, will he consider the impact that Mr Flanagan’s conduct has had on the likelihood of our being able to recruit women and ethnic minority people to these boards?

Michael Matheson: The member raises an important issue. This Government is clear about the need to have greater diversity on our public bodies. I recently made some further appointments to the SPA, and I have written to the chair of the SPA board in recent weeks, highlighting the need to have greater diversity on the board, as that is extremely important. It is also extremely important that, when ministers consider such issues, we follow due process in considering any concerns that are raised with us in order that we do not dissuade people from thinking about applying for appointments to public boards.

I assure the member that it is clear to me that we must do everything possible to increase diversity not just within the membership of the SPA board but on any boards within the justice setting and that the boards should take proactive measures to assist in achieving that. For example, it is not necessary to have direct appointments if there is no space for them, as members can be seconded to support the work of public bodies in order to encourage greater diversity and give those people experience of the work that the board undertakes with a view to their applying for a place on the board at some point in the future.

The Government is clear about the need for greater diversity in the scrutiny of legislation, and I am clear that we need greater diversity on all boards in the justice sector. Our recent track record on appointments to justice boards demonstrates that we are making significant progress by increasing the number of women members, in particular, and I am determined that we will continue to drive that forward.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD): The cabinet secretary will have heard Andrew Flanagan’s statement at the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing last week. There is no doubting that he was extremely contrite and offered an apology. However, a number of members made the point that the position that he holds has been undermined and that the SPA will be inhibited in moving forward as long as he remains the chair.

Given that, at the most recent SPA board meeting, which was held last week, concerns were again raised by board members about the publication of papers in advance of the meeting, does the cabinet secretary not believe that the culture shift that we all want to see in the SPA will be impossible until there is a change at the top?

Michael Matheson: The member will be aware that the SPA board decided, at its meeting 25 May, to return to the presumption that its committee meetings would take place in public and that all papers would be published in advance. I have been very clear with the SPA about the need to ensure that it is open and transparent in conducting its business.

The member will recognise that, as has been highlighted, there is a need for private space in some of the SPA board’s work, given the sensitive and confidential nature of some of the information that it is provided with. That is particularly the case when the information relates to operational matters for Police Scotland. A safe space needs to be provided for discussions and for the sharing of that information to take place.

Notwithstanding that, my view is that the presumption that committee and board meetings will take place in public is the right approach. That is why I have asked HMICS to bring forward the early part of its statutory inspection, which was due to take place in the autumn of this year, and to look specifically at the issue of governance within the SPA. That work has already been started and HMICS will report by 22 June. I have no doubt that the report will support us in looking at what further measures the SPA needs to put in place.

I recognise the need for the SPA to operate openly and transparently, and I have been clear with it, over an extended period, that the processes and mechanisms that it has in place must be able to deliver that openness and transparency effectively.

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab): We know that the chair of the Scottish Police Authority did not tell his board about a letter from Derek Penman that advised of the forthcoming inspection. Now, we understand that, on a previous occasion, Mr Flanagan did not share an advice note on forensic services with the board. Does the cabinet secretary believe that that is a further example of a lack of transparency? Does the chair of any public body who behaves in that way meet the Scottish Government’s own guidance for those who serve on public boards?

Michael Matheson: Jackie Baillie will be aware that Andrew Flanagan has accepted that he should have passed that note on to the other members of his board and that he made an unacceptable error. We need to ensure that chairs of any public bodies pass on relevant information to other members of the board to allow them to come to an informed position on matters when they are being discussed. The chair has also accepted that the advice note should have been passed on to board members. Again, we will consider that in looking at the matter as a whole.

I assure members that the Government will come to a position on the matter, but it is appropriate that we consider all the facts and information that have been provided. In part, that is for the reason that was highlighted by John Finnie, which is that we want to attract individuals to stand for and work on our public bodies. We need to ensure that ministers and the Government go through a due process in considering these matters and coming to a decision. My concern is that a failure to do that would dissuade people from taking up public appointments, and we want to avoid that. That is why we will consider these matters very carefully and in a detailed way, and we will then come to a decision.

CHAIR MUST GO – Crisis continues at Scottish Police Authority as Justice Secretary dodges duty:

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson’s refusal to sack Flanagan as the crisis in governance and leadership at the Police Watchdog continues to grow – comes after a string of stinging criticisms and revelations over poor governance at the Scottish Police Authority, and accusations the SPA was being run as a secret society.

Legal observers who have been following developments speculate more action, and a decision may have been taken much earlier on the status of the current SPA Chief and board, had now former Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill held the justice brief.

Holyrood’s Justice Sub-Committee on policing said they had “no confidence” in Flanagan’s leadership, and criticised his decision to hold meetings in private and for his treatment of Moi Ali, a board member who spoke out against the move.

They were the second Scottish Parliament committee to express concerns about the SPA’s governance.

Members of the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny (PAPLS) Committee have also criticised Andrew Flanagan for his treatment of board member Moi Ali, who was forced to resign from the Police Watchdog after speaking out over concerns about transparency and the publication of papers for board meetings.

A full report on the PAPLS meeting of 20 April can be found here: POLICING SECRETS: Former Scottish Police Authority board member Moi Ali invited to give evidence at Holyrood, after MSPs accuse SPA bosses of running Police watchdog like Kremlin ‘secret society’

A full report on the second PAPLS hearing of 11 May can be found here: UNFIT AUTHORITY: Chair of Scottish Police Authority “is not fit to continue on any public board” – says former SPA board member in evidence to Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee scrutiny of Police watchdog.

A more detailed report on the 18th May 2017 hearing of the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing can be found here: AUTHORITY LOST: Chair of Scottish Police Authority refuses to resign after facing challenge from Justice Committee MSPs to consider his position on discredited Police watchdog.

A further article on the Justice sub Committee on Policing’s report into the crisis at the Scottish Police Authority can be viewed here: NO CONFIDENCE: Chair of Scottish Police Authority refuses to stand down, as board member criticises Holyrood scrutiny of governance, secrecy culture & lack of accountability at discredited Police watchdog

The report from the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing can be found here:  Justice Sub Committee on Policing Report on Governance of the Scottish Police Authority

According to declarations on the SPA website, Andrew Flanagan also holds positions on the Civil Service Commission, NHS Business Services Authority, London-based NEL Commissioning Support Unit, and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, positions he earns up to £75,000 a year in addition to his £70K salary as SPA Chair.

Flanagan’s decision to remain in office comes after members of Holyrood’s Justice Committee said in a report  they had “serious concerns”in the current SPA Board – which has responsibility for oversight and spending of the £1.1 billion Police Scotland budget.

Responding to the Justice Committee’s criticisms of the SPA and their report SPA Chair Andrew Flanagan refused to stand down.

Mr Flanagan said: “As I have already done with the views of other parliamentarians, I and the SPA Board will consider this report very carefully over the coming days and reflect on its contents.

“As I indicated in my evidence to the Committee, I have publicly acknowledged recent mistakes without caveat or qualification. I also believe that in my time in office I have brought much improvement and clarity to the strategy, governance, sustainability, and relationships within policing.”

“I remain focussed on building a broad consensus around my continuing leadership of the SPA, and my contribution to a stable and collaborative leadership within policing as a whole.”

SPA Chair Andrew Flanagan’s decision to stay in the lead role at the now discredited Scottish Police Authority comes after one of it’s Board members – Graham Houston – launched a blistering attack on open hearings at the Scottish Parliament’s PAPLS Committee’ – after it’s members quizzed the Chair & CEO of the SPA, along with Scottish Government Civil Servants at an earlier meeting of 20 April 2017.

Criticising MSPs scrutiny of the Scottish Police Authority, Board member Graham Houston said: “I also think as an example of good governance I think the treatment of my fellow board members by an audit and scrutiny committee was frankly appalling and I think if that is an example of what is expected of good scrutiny it leaves a lot to be desired. And I suggest that the members of that committee look to themselves about setting an example and also look to the guidance on board about how they conduct themselves in doing that.”

Mr Houston then attacked the media, accusing the press of abusing the ‘openness’ of the SPA and concludes by stating “I think that what will transpire is that probably we are one of the most open public authorities in Scotland.”

Video footage of Graham Houston’s criticisms of MSPs scrutiny of the SPA can be found here: Scottish Police Authority Board Member Graham Houston hits out at PAPLS scrutiny of Police Watchdog.

A glimpse into the world of the Scottish Police Authority’s board meetings features an excerpt from the SPA’s meeting of 15 December 2016, in which Board Member Moi Ali raised serious concerns about recommendations in relation to the publication on the day of board meetings and the holding of committees in private.

More on the discussion around the Governance Framework and input from Moi Ali who raised her concerns at the meeting can be viewed in video footage here: Scottish Police Authority 15 December 2016 meeting Governance framework discussion.

Ms Ali said she understood there were good reasons for those recommendations she had serious concerns about the lack of transparency around the two proposals, and that there were real drawbacks in relation to holding committee meetings in private.

Moi Ali said her concerns were two fold – the perception issue in relation to private meetings where it may be perceived that decisions may be taken behind closed doors, and that defacto decision may well be taken behind closed doors and that the process of decision making will be hidden and there is a danger in due course this will morph into a different kind of body in which effectively real decisions are taken albeit not in name but then come back to the SPA Board for rubber stamping rather than transparent debate.

While Flanagan still clings to power, the Justice Committee expressed “very serious concerns about the standards of governance” at the body and said it “does not have confidence that the current chair is the best person to lead the board”.

Previous articles on the Scottish Police Authority can be found here: Scottish Police Authority – Poor governance, private meetings & lack of accountability at Police regulator

 

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NO CONFIDENCE: Chair of Scottish Police Authority refuses to stand down, as board member criticises Holyrood scrutiny of governance, secrecy culture & lack of accountability at discredited Police watchdog

Chair Andrew Flanagan clings to power at Police regulator. AMID further calls to quit, the Chair of the embattled Scottish Police Authority (SPA) grimly remains in office and at the centre of a crisis which has eroded public confidence in the Police watchdog to the point only a clean sweep of the board may begin to repair significant reputational damage to the regulator of Police Scotland.

Facing further criticism from the Scottish Parliament’s Justice sub-committee on Policing late last week, Andrew Flanagan again refused to stand down from his £70K position as Chair of the SPA.

According to his declarations on the SPA website, Andrew Flanagan also holds positions on the Civil Service Commission, NHS Business Services Authority, London-based NEL Commissioning Support Unit, and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, positions he earns up to £75,000 a year in addition to his £70K salary as SPA Chair.

Flanagan’s decision to remain in office comes after members of Holyrood’s Justice Committee said in a report  they had “serious concerns”in the current SPA Board – which has responsibility for oversight and spending of the £1.1 billion Police Scotland budget.

The Justice Committee expressed “very serious concerns about the standards of governance” at the body and said it “does not have confidence that the current chair is the best person to lead the board”.

The report was issued after the Justice Committee held an evidence session with SPA Chair Andrew Flanagan & CEO John Foley after hearings at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit Committee heard details of Andrew Flanagan’s treatment of Moi Ali – a former SPA board member who spoke up over concerns about the lack of transparency & accountability at the Police Watchdog.

At an earlier meeting of the PAPLS Committee Moi Ali accused Flanagan of bullying, which led to Ms Ali’s resignation from the Police regulator after she publicly objected to plans to hold meetings in private and arrangements over the publication of board papers prior to meetings.

During the evidence session at the Justice Committee, SPA Chair Andrew Flanagan told MSPs he had issued a written apology to Ali on Tuesday of that week, however, evidence has since emerged the apology was emailed to Ms Ali  less than two hours before Flanagan was to appear before MSPs to answer concerns about harassment and transparency.

The Justice Committee have not yet commented on whether they plan to quiz Mr Flanagan further on his contradictory claims in relation to his communications with Moi Ali.

While Justice Secretary Michael Matheson has remained conspicuously silent in the crisis at the SPA, Matheson has quietly requested an inspection of transparency and accountability issues at the organisation be brought forward by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS).

The results are expected in June, however Justice Committee member Mary Fee MSP (Scottish Labour) branded Flanagan’s testimony to the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing “frankly inadequate”, adding: “We do not have confidence in his leadership.”

The report released by the Justice Committee says Flanagan’s repeated use of the phrase “I have to accept” when discussing his treatment of Moi Ali – does not reassure the committee that he has a “real belief and understanding” that the actions he took and “repeatedly defended were wrong”.

Speaking to the BBC, Mary Fee MSP – Convener of the Justice sub-Committee on Policing – said: “Though he was apologetic, we are not confident he accepts he was wrong.

“This issue remains unresolved. We will continue working with the Scottish Police Authority, and other justice stakeholders, until we are confident the governance of the SPA is significantly improved.”

Also speaking to the media, former Police officer & Justice Committee member John Finnie – also the Justice spokesperson for the Greens, said: “Andrew Flanagan said nothing at his most recent appearance in front of the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing which led me to believe that he has learned the important lessons necessary for him to lead the SPA.

“Mr Flanagan’s half-hearted apology, emailing Moi Ali around an hour before his appearance at the sub-committee, epitomises his approach to this whole sorry saga – looking out for his own self-interest rather than that of the Scottish Police Authority.

“In order to effectively chair an important public body it is vital that you hold the confidence of Parliament. It is clear from the views expressed by both the Public Audit Committee and today by the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing that Mr Flanagan lacks that confidence.

“He certainly does not hold my confidence.

“This ongoing situation continues to overshadow the vital work of the SPA and must be resolved sooner rather than later. I would ask Mr Flanagan to seriously reflect on his position.”

Giving evidence to the sub-committee, Flanagan was asked if he accepted there had been “reputational damage to SPA that it may not recover from”.

He replied: “I think we can recover from it, I think there has been some damage there. I think my apology to Moi is a start of that process, it is not the end of the process.

Responding to the Justice Committee’s criticisms of the SPA and their report SPA Chair Andrew Flanagan said: “As I have already done with the views of other parliamentarians, I and the SPA Board will consider this report very carefully over the coming days and reflect on its contents.

“As I indicated in my evidence to the Committee, I have publicly acknowledged recent mistakes without caveat or qualification. I also believe that in my time in office I have brought much improvement and clarity to the strategy, governance, sustainability, and relationships within policing.”

“I remain focussed on building a broad consensus around my continuing leadership of the SPA, and my contribution to a stable and collaborative leadership within policing as a whole.”

“Today, and in recognition of recent areas of contention, the SPA has backed my recommended changes to governance that will increase both the transparency of our meetings and the accessibility of information.”

“This will begin to address the concerns of stakeholders, and the inspection report of HMICS will provide a further opportunity to build on that.”

“I also look forward to further developing and broadening the Board’s approach with the appointment today of Nicola Marchant as the first Deputy Chair.”

It has since been reported in the Herald newspaper SPA Chair Andrew Flanagan did not share a crucial report on forensics with all his board members.

The SPA has control of forensic services – including DNA, drug analysis and scene examination – and Mr Penman sent the chair a “professional advice note” (PAN) on the subject.

The document flagged up possible reforms on a part of the Police service that has had to make efficiency savings.

Speaking to the Herald, a spokesman for HMICS said of the advice note: “HMICS received a letter on 31 October 2016, from the [SPA] Chair acknowledging the final version and confirming that it had been shared with all board members.”

The Herald further reported: “However, asked yesterday to confirm that Mr Flanagan had shared the advice note with all board members, a spokesman for the SPA said:

“The SPA members received briefing from their officers last August in which one of the options set out in respect of forensic services clearly reflected the HMICS advice note. The paper provided to members made clear that background papers available to them included the independent analysis and advice by HMICS in relation to forensic services.”

A senior policing source said it was a “fair assumption” that the advice note was not given to all board members at the time.”

Report from the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing: Justice Sub Committee on Policing Report on Governance of the Scottish Police Authority

1. The Justice Sub-Committee on Policing held an evidence session on the governance of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) on 18 May 2017.

2. It took evidence from Andrew Flanagan, Chair, and John Foley, Chief Executive of the Scottish Police Authority.

3. This was in response to the letter from the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice outlining its “very serious concerns about the standards of governance at the SPA”, following its recent evidence sessions^

4. The Cabinet Secretary for Justice has asked Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) to bring forward aspects of his intended statutory inspection into the state, efficiency and effectiveness of the Scottish Police Authority scheduled for 2017/18. The Cabinet Secretary has asked HMICS focus on transparency and accountability issues.]

5. Accordingly, HMICS is currently undertaking a Thematic Inspection of the Scottish Police Authority – Phase 1 Review of Openness and Transparency and is to report to the Scottish Parliament on 22 June 2017. The terms of reference are as follows:

The overall aim of this review will be to assess the openness and transparency in the way that the Scottish Police Authority conducts its business. It will specifically examine:

(i) the Authority’s decision on holding meetings in private and the publication of meeting papers; and also assess

(ii) the Authority’s compliance with relevant legislation, guidance and standing orders and the awareness and understanding of the Chair, Board members and SPA officers of these.

Introduction

6. This report outlines the views of the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing on the evidence heard at its meetings of 20 April, when representatives of Unison, the Scottish Police Federation and the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents provided evidence, and of 18 May, with the Chair and Chief Executive of the SPA.

Committee consideration

7. The 18 May evidence session focussed on the following decisions:

• to hold committee meetings in private;

• to not circulate to the SPA board members the letter from HMICS raising concerns about holding committee meetings in private; and

• the Chair’s letter to Moi Ali of 19 December, in response to her dissenting to meetings being held in private.

8. The Sub-Committee considered the decisions taken by the Chair and Chief Executive, the actions they took (or did not take) as a result of those decisions, and the impact on the effective governance and reputation of the SPA.

9. The Sub-Committee also considered the impact of the proposed actions to be taken going forward on the SPA’s governance, transparency and reputation.

Conclusions

10. The Sub-Committee shares the very serious concerns about the standards of governance at the SPA raised by the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee and thanks it for its scrutiny of the governance of the Scottish Police Authority.

11. The Sub-Committee agreed to write to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, copied to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS), outlining its views. The letter is attached at Annexe A of this report.

PAPLS Letter from the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to HMICS, 20 April 2017

PAPLS Letter to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, 12 May 2017

Letter from the Justice Sub Committee on Policing to Justice Secretary Michael Matheson:

Dear Michael: The Justice Sub-Committee on Policing held an evidence session on 18 May 2017 on governance of the Sottish Police Authority. This was to provide an opportunity for the Chair and Chief Executive of the SPA to address serious governance concerns raised by the Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee in its recent letter to you.

The Sub-Committee also took evidence from Unison, the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) and the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents (ASPS) on 20 April, when SPA governance issues were raised.

The Sub-Committee appreciates that HMICS is currently undertaking an urgent review of the openness and transparency of the SPA and that you are to appraise the performance of the Chair of the SPA. This letter is to inform both.

Openness, transparency and accountability

The Sub-Committee agrees with your assessment that the SPA “needs to ensure that the processes and mechanisms that it has in place are open and transparent’’^”

Many of the issues surrounding the openness, transparency and accountability of the SPA’s governance seem to have been created by the implementation of two of the recommendations in Andrew Flanagan’s Review of Governance, which was published in March 2016. These were that committees should be seen as working groups (recommendation 15) and therefore that their meetings should be held in private (recommendation 16).

In his letter to Andrew Flanagan of 9 December 2016, Derek Penman cautioned that the proposal for committees to meet in private might impact negatively on the openness, transparency and legitimacy of the SPA, as well as public confidence in its governance. Despite this, the decision was made for committees to meet in private.

In a previous evidence session, the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing heard that those representing police staff, officers and superintendents felt that this decision excluded them from participating in the decision-making process.

Craig Suttie of the ASPS told the Sub-Committee that superintendents “had concerns when the governance review came out”, whilst Calum Steele of the SPF said that holding private committee meetings “undermines the SPA’s legitimacy”.

In response to questions on engagement with the unions and staff associations Mr Flanagan acknowledged that he was aware that stakeholders were unhappy, but held the view that the level of engagement was sufficient, saying that “In the committee structure that has been set up, people can come and give evidence … the SPF and other staff associations and unions can come to those meetings”.[4]

The proposal that committees are to meet in public and to publish papers well in advance of meetings is a move in the right direction. This is good practice and it is difficult to comprehend why this approach was not recommended in the governance review.

There is a need for some items to be taken in private, and the Sub-Committee appreciates Mr Flanagan’s assurance that respectful open debate on whether items should be taken in private will be encouraged going forward.

Private committee meetings, issuing papers at the last minute, and reducing input from key stakeholders has damaged the relationship between the SPA and police staff, officers and superintendents. It has also raised questions within the police service and externally about the SPA’s accountability, transparency and legitimacy.

Although there is now a proposal for committees to meet in public, Mr Flanagan suggested that this was due to improvements in the information that is submitted by Police Scotland,rather than being in response to the impact private meetings have had on key relationships and the SPA’s reputation. It is essential to repair both.

As part of his review, HMICS is to “engage directly with the key stakeholders, including police staff associations and members of the media and others who have a specific interest in the policing of Scotland and who may wish access to SPA meetings and papers”.

The Sub-Committee would refer HMICS to its evidence session on 20 April with Unison, the SPF and ASPS and, in light of recent media reports, respectfully request that Mr Penman engage with COSLA during his review of openness and transparency.

Correspondence from HMICS

It is clear that Derek Penman’s letter of 9 December 2016 to the Chair, copied to the Chief Executive, was time critical. In it Mr Penman raises a number of concerns about the Corporate Governance Framework, which was to be agreed at the following week’s SPA board meeting. Whilst Mr Flanagan has now acknowledged that this correspondence should have been circulated as a matter of course, and has committed to doing so in future, the Sub-Committee explored the reasons for the 9 December letter not being circulated.

The Sub-Committee heard that there were practical issues which contributed to Mr Penman’s letter not being circulated immediately. The Chief Executive was out of the country, with the letter apparently not being brought to his attention during or after his leave period. The Chair received the letter “late on Friday” and was not undertaking SPA duties again prior to the board meeting the following week.

However, Mr Flanagan stated that, in his view, there had been no need to circulate Mr Penman’s letter, telling the Sub-Committee that “I felt that his letter captured views that had already been expressed rather than injecting new ones”.

Mr Penman explained to the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee on 11 May that his letter: “contained a level of detail that I would not have had the opportunity to explain in conversations on the margins with members”

Despite this Mr Foley told the Sub-Committee on 18 May that “It is not the case that his [Derek Penman’s] views were not known”

The letter was discussed at the pre-meeting and was not circulated before, during or at any time after the SPA board meeting. Board members and key stakeholders only saw the content of the letter, or in some cases became aware it, once it appeared in media reports some months later.

At the Sub-Committee meeting of 20 April 2017 Drew Livingstone stated that Unison was particularly concerned about not being made aware of the HMICS letter until recently, saying that: “there has been a reluctance on the part of the organisation to listen to opinions that might come across as being slightly dissenting”

Not circulating the HMICS letter to Board Members, as Her Majesty’s Inspector would have expected, was, in the Sub-Committee’s view, a serious error of judgement.

HMICS has a statutory role to look into the ‘state, effectiveness and efficiency’ of the SPA and it should provide HMICS with “such assistance and co-operation as we may require to enable us to carry out our functions”.

The Sub-Committee asks that you consider whether the Chair demonstrates sufficient understanding of the relationship between the SPA and HMICS and whether, in this instance, the required level of co-operation was provided to HMICS.

The operation of the SPA board

The On Board guidance states that “The Chair has an important role to play in ensuring that all Board members are enabled and encouraged to contribute to Board discussions”. Building and maintaining effective working relationships with SPA board members is an essential role of the Chair.

The Sub-Committee considered whether the Chair’s response to Moi Ali’s dissension at the board meeting in December, his interpretation of the On Board guidance and his communication style, enables and encourages members to contribute fully at SPA board meetings.

Treatment of Moi Ali

The Sub-Committee agrees with Mr Flanagan’s view that the tone, content and timing of his letter to Moi Ali in December was a misjudgement on his part and that the manner in which she raised concerns about transparency and perception at the SPA board meeting in December were consistent with her role as a Board member.

This issue has been on-going for almost 6 months and has been deeply damaging to the reputation of the SPA. It is therefore regrettable that Mr Flanagan did not come to this view initially, or before now, and that he did not seek to resolve this matter in person with Moi Ali before she felt it necessary to resign.

Mr Flanagan wrote to Moi Ali on two separate occasions, almost two months apart, but it seems that he did not find an opportunity to speak directly to Moi Ali to seek to resolve the issue and to repair the relationship.

The Sub-Committee notes that Mr Flanagan wrote a personal letter of apology to Ms Ali but that it was only written two days before the Sub-Committee’s evidence session and emailed on the day of the session.

Dissent

Mr Flanagan told the Sub-Committee that “The fundamental issue at the board meeting was that her [Moi Ali’s] decision to dissent was a surprise to me—that was the main frustration”

It remains Mr Flanagan’s view that he should be made aware before a board meeting if a member is likely to dissent in public, so that he was “prepared for that when the board meeting took place”.

This expectation is out of step with what is required of board members in the On Board guidance. Whilst this approach might be desirable for a Chair it does not enable the SPA board members to form a view at board meetings and could inhibit them from dissenting from a decision if they had not previously informed the Chair that they intended to do so. It has led to criticism that decisions are made before SPA board meetings and then ‘played out’ in public. There is an important distinction between a united board and an effective board. It is not always one and the same.

Relationship with SPA board members

The Sub-Committee heard that other SPA board members had only recently commented on the Chair’s treatment of Moi Ali, describing it to him as “a bit hasty and a bit heavy handed”.

The three SPA board members who gave evidence to the Public Audit and Post­-legislative Scrutiny Committee on 11 May, have only recently committed to asking the Chair why the HMICS letter was not circulated. They confirmed in evidence that they had not done so before now, despite the letter being in the public domain for a number of weeks.

It appears that on both these issues, despite having concerns about the Chair’s actions, significantly, SPA board members were reticent about speaking directly to Mr Flanagan.

Mr Flanagan told the Sub-Committee that the SPA board is to appoint a Deputy Chair. He indicated that one of the advantages of this appointment was that this person could meet with members of the Board who might feel constrained in raising an issue of concern directly with the Chair.

The Sub-Committee would be deeply concerned if Board members felt constrained in speaking to the Chair and, if that were the case, would expect the Chair to rectify that position as a matter of urgency.

Going forward

The Justice Sub-Committee on Policing agrees with the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee’s assessment that it is essential that the public and stakeholders be reassured that the SPA is performing to an appropriate standard.

Unfortunately Mr Flanagan’s repeated use of the phrase “I have to accept” did not reassure the Sub-Committee that he has a real belief and understanding that the actions that he took in relation to Moi Ali and in not circulating the HMICS letter, and repeatedly defended, were wrong.

There will be many difficult decisions for the SPA board to take going forward. It is essential that as many of these as possible are taken in public and informed by stakeholders. Openness, inclusiveness and transparency will strengthen the decision­ making process and the accountability of the SPA. Given the evidence that it has heard, the Sub-Committee does not have confidence that the current chair is the best person to lead the Board.

HMICS is currently undertaking a review of the openness and transparency of the SPA.

The Sub-Committee asks HMICS to consider the evidence it has taken and the contents of this report as part of that review. Mr Flanagan has committed to write to the Sub­ Committee with a response to HMICS’ review at the earliest opportunity.

TRANSPARENCY FIRST: Former Board member Moi Ali spoke out on transparency concerns at Police Watchdog:

A glimpse into the world of the Scottish Police Authority’s board meetings features an excerpt from the SPA’s meeting of 15 December 2016, in which Board Member Moi Ali raised serious concerns about recommendations in relation to the publication on the day of board meetings and the holding of committees in private.

More on the discussion around the Governance Framework and input from Moi Ali who raised her concerns at the meeting can be viewed here:

Scottish Police Authority 15 December 2016 meeting Governance framework discussion

Ms Ali said she understood there were good reasons for those recommendations she had serious concerns about the lack of transparency around the two proposals, and that there were real drawbacks in relation to holding committee meetings in private.

Moi Ali said her concerns were two fold – the perception issue in relation to private meetings where it may be perceived that decisions may be taken behind closed doors, and that defacto decision may well be taken behind closed doors and that the process of decision making will be hidden and there is a danger in due course this will morph into a different kind of body in which effectively real decisions are taken albeit not in name but then come back to the SPA Board for rubber stamping rather than transparent debate.

UNFIT AUTHORITY: – Crisis continues at Scottish Police Authority after Board members criticise MSPs scrutiny of Cop Quango:

SPA Chair Andrew Flanagan’s decision to stay in the lead role at the now discredited Scottish Police Authority comes after one of it’s Board members – Graham Houston – launched a blistering attack on open hearings at the Scottish Parliament’s PAPLS Committee’ – after it’s members quizzed the Chair & CEO of the SPA, along with Scottish Government Civil Servants at an earlier meeting of 20 April 2017.

Scottish Police Authority Board Member Graham Houston hits out at PAPLS scrutiny of Police Watchdog

Critisising MSPs scrutiny of the Scottish Police Authority, Board member Graham Houston said: “I also think as an example of good governance I think the treatment of my fellow board members by an audit and scrutiny committee was frankly appalling and I think if that is an example of what is expected of good scrutiny it leaves a lot to be desired. And I suggest that the members of that committee look to themselves about setting an example and also look to the guidance on board about how they conduct themselves in doing that.”

Mr Houston then attacked the media, accusing the press of abusing the ‘openness’ of the SPA and concludes by stating “I think that what will transpire is that probably we are one of the most open public authorities in Scotland.”

The SPA’s statement on the outcome of the meeting claimed it had strengthened the transparency and accessibility of its governance arrangements by making a number of revisions to Board and committee meetings and publication of papers.

The changes decided at the meeting, which will come in to effect from 1 June 2017 include:

SPA committee meetings held in public, with items taken in private only when necessary and with a clear articulation of the reason.

The publication of agendas for all public Board and committee meetings will be available on the SPA website 7 days in advance of meetings.

The publication of papers for all public Board and committee meetings will be published on the SPA website (under embargo) 3-working days in advance.

The publication of agendas for closed Board and committee meetings will be published on the SPA website (redacted if necessary) and a summary of the business conducted will be reported to the next public Board meeting.

The public will also have the opportunity to pose questions about policing matters to the SPA Board in advance of meetings.

In addition, the SPA Board has established a new Deputy Chair role. Nicola Marchant has been unanimously appointed to that position with immediate effect.

Full details of the changes and next steps agreed by the Board are outlined in the following paper: http://www.spa.police.uk/assets/126884/400419/governance

Houston’s criticism of the refers to the following hearing, in which evidence revealed to MSPs portrayed the Scottish Police Authority as a haven of secrecy, run in the style of  a “kremlin” operation – according to former Cabinet Secretary & PAPLS member Alex Neil MSP (SNP):

Scottish Police Authority – Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee – Scottish Parliament: 20th April 2017

A full report on the PAPLS meeting of 20 April can be found here: POLICING SECRETS: Former Scottish Police Authority board member Moi Ali invited to give evidence at Holyrood, after MSPs accuse SPA bosses of running Police watchdog like Kremlin ‘secret society’

A further appearance of current and former board members of the Scottish Police Authority before Holyrood’s PAPLS Committee on the 11th May – established evidence in relation to a sequence of alarming events at the SPA – giving MSPs significant cause for concern of how the SPA Chair was in effect, personally running the Police watchdog as a “secret society”.

Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee – Scottish Parliament: 11th May 2017

A full report on the PAPLS hearing of 11 May can be found here: UNFIT AUTHORITY: Chair of Scottish Police Authority “is not fit to continue on any public board” – says former SPA board member in evidence to Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee scrutiny of Police watchdog

The hearing also established not one board member of the now discredited Police Watchdog backed former board member Moi Ali – who was forced to resign from the SPA after she bravely raised issues of transparency and accountability during a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority in December 2016.

Then, at a hearing of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice sub-committee on Policing, Andrew Flanagan was asked by MSPs several times to consider his position as SPA Chair – yet Flanagan refused each call to stand down and allow the Scottish Police Authority to move on from the current crisis.

Justice Sub-Committee on Policing – Scottish Parliament: 18th May 2017

A more detailed report on the 18th May 2017 hearing of the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing can be found here: AUTHORITY LOST: Chair of Scottish Police Authority refuses to resign after facing challenge from Justice Committee MSPs to consider his position on discredited Police watchdog

Previous articles on the Scottish Police Authority can be found here: Scottish Police Authority – Poor governance, private meetings & lack of accountability at Police regulator

 

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AUTHORITY LOST: Chair of Scottish Police Authority refuses to resign after facing challenge from Justice Committee MSPs to consider his position on discredited Police watchdog

Police Watchdog boss Andrew Flanagan refused calls to step down. THE CHAIR of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) has rejected calls from MSPs to consider his position on the discredited Police watchdog – and step aside – at a hearing at the Scottish Parliament earlier today.

During the evidence session of the Justice Committee’s sub committee on Policing on Thursday afternoon, SPA Chair Andrew Flanagan rejected several calls to step down from his lead of the scandal hit SPA – while also facing mounting criticism of his handling of governance decisions at the organisation in charge of overseeing Police Scotland.

Responding to calls from several members of the Committee that he consider his position, Mr Flanagan said: “I have reflected very seriously on the views expressed by parliamentarians and other stakeholders. In reflecting on the last two years, I believe there is more that I have got right than I have got wrong, on strategy, on clarity and control, on refreshed leadership for policing and on many other aspects.

Desperate to retain his position as Chair of the SPA, Flanagan claimed he still had potential to offer the Scottish Police Authority.

Mr Flanagan continued: “I acknowledge my recent mistakes, and you have rightly taken me to task for them. But I hope to be judged also on the significant progress achieved and the leadership potential I can still offer.”

Despite the furore over Flanagan’s conduct and the diminishing reputation of the SPA, Flanagan claimed Policing in Scotland benefited from the SPA and that he had the support of his board – which now faces calls for a clean sweep of members.

Flanagan said: “Policing is in a much better position than it was, but there is still a huge amount to do. I believe now is not the time for yet another change of leadership in what will be a pivotal and challenging next three years for policing in Scotland. I have discussed this with my board and I have their unanimous support.”

Watch today’s full Justice sub committee on Policing here:

Justice Sub-Committee on Policing – Scottish Parliament: 18th May 2017

Much of the Justice Committee’s criticism of Mr Flanagan and his handling of governance at the SPA stems from his treatment of former board member Moi Ali, who resigned after clashing with the chairman over board meetings being held behind closed doors.

She told MSPs that she felt she had been bullied, describing her exit from the board as “a really horrendous experience” and saying Mr Flanagan was “not fit to continue on any public board”.

The public audit committee said Mr Flanagan had acted in an “inappropriate matter”, and said the “default position for such an important body is that its committees should meet in public”.

Mr Flanagan told MSPs that he had written to Ms Ali to apologise, saying his approach was a matter of “bitter regret” and a “misjudgement”. He said she had been “right in raising substantive concerns about transparency”, adding: “I was wrong.”

He subsequently confirmed he had sent the letter of apology on Tuesday – days after the critical report from the public audit committee.

However, it was revealed during the evidence session by Moi Ali posted on twitter that she had received it via email “only after I suggested legal action and issued an ultimatum”.

The letter of apology sent by Mr Flanagan had in fact only been sent to Ms Ali today, Thursday.

Mr Flanagan said that in light of the committee’s report: “I have to accept that I was wrong.”

Justice Committee members were highly critical of Mr Flanagan during the meeting, with MSP Stewart Stevenson quoting the situation with regard to his own resignation as transport minister in 2010.

Mr Stevenson said: “The biggest of people will always put the interests of the organisation of which they are part above their personal considerations should they be part of the decision-making. I simply invite you to take the same position as I took in 2010.”

This latest Holyrood hearing on difficulties at the Scottish Police Authority comes in the wake of investigations by the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit and Post Legislative Scrutiny Committee (PAPLS) which has heard evidence on the lack of transparency at the top of the SPA and Flanagan’s treatment of former board member Moi Ali, who resigned after raising concerns about private meetings and a lack of transparency.

Watch the PAPLS Committee hearing of 11 May here:

Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee – Scottish Parliament: 11th May 2017

The full transcript of the hearing can be viewed here: Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee 11 May 2017

Last week at the PAPLS committee, former SPA Board member Moi Ali described Mr Flanagan as “…not fit to continue on any public board, because he clearly does not observe public sector values” .

In an exchange between Monica Lennon MSP and the former SPA board member, Ms Lennon asked: “Given the letter and what you have just said about feeling bullied, do you think that Andrew Flanagan is fit to continue as chair of the Scottish Police Authority?”

In her response, Moi Ali gave a highly critical account of the SPA Chair’s position, stating : “I am afraid that I do not. He is actually not fit to continue on any public board, because he clearly does not observe public sector values. However, the Scottish Police Authority is in a different league, because an oversight body that oversees policing has to set even higher standards of corporate governance, and he has clearly not observed those standards.”

A full report on the PAPLS hearing of 11 May can be found here: UNFIT AUTHORITY: Chair of Scottish Police Authority “is not fit to continue on any public board” – says former SPA board member in evidence to Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee scrutiny of Police watchdog

During the stormy evidence session with MSPs, Andrew Flanagan, chairman of the Scottish Police Authority was also forced to admit he withheld from colleagues a letter which criticised plans to hold board committee meetings in private – leading to accusations the chairman was treating board members “like infants”.

The earlier PAPLS Committee session on 20 April also heard animated exchanges between Former Cabinet Secretary & Committee member Alex Neil MSP (SNP Airdrie and Shotts) and SPA Chairman Andrew Flanagan –  who was accused of running the Police Watchdog as a “secret society”.

Watch the PAPLS Committee session of 20 April here:

Scottish Police Authority – Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee – Scottish Parliament: 20th April 2017

The full transcript of the meeting has now been published, available here: Official Report: Public Audit & Post Legislative Scrutiny Committee 20 April 2017

During questions put to SPA Chief Andrew Flanagan, Chief Executive John Foley, and representatives of the Scottish Government, Alex Neil said: “This is not the Kremlin you are running, it is supposed to be an open public body. We have this secret society … inside the board … deciding on transparency of governance and the whole thing is done without public knowledge, without people out there being able to hold this board to account.”

Replying to Alex Neil on the matter of not sharing the letter, Mr Flanagan said “I didn’t think it was necessary to circulate the letter itself.”

However – Mr Neil told Mr Flanagan he had breached “every rule in the book” by refusing to share the document with the rest of the SPA Board.

Alex Neil went on to describe the Scottish Police Authority as “a shambles”.

A full report on the PAPLS meeting of 20 April can be found here: POLICING SECRETS: Former Scottish Police Authority board member Moi Ali invited to give evidence at Holyrood, after MSPs accuse SPA bosses of running Police watchdog like Kremlin ‘secret society’

Previous articles on the Scottish Police Authority can be found here: Scottish Police Authority – Poor governance, private meetings & lack of accountability at Police regulator

 

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CASH IN THE CROWN: Forget millions on bonuses, mortgages, junkets & dodgy prosecutions – Holyrood Crown Office probe raises concerns, recommends changes for £113m ‘under-resourced’ & untrustworthy Prosecution service

Scots Prosecutors ‘getting by’ on £113m a year. SCOTLAND’S PROSECUTORS are “just about managing” on £113million a year of taxpayers cash – according to a report produced by the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee of the ‘Role and Purpose of the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).

During the ‘bombshell’ inquiry into the Crown Office – an organisation once dubbed ‘the most corrupt institution in Scotland’ by a Cabinet minister – the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee heard claims COPFS staff suffered from shortage of resources,weak morale – including more than average levels of sick leave, claims of overwork.

MSPs also heard grips from the Lord Advocate – James Wolffe QC and his team over the level of public cash thrown at the infamous Edinburgh based Crown Office which now stands at a whopping £112.5million a year – according to figures in the Scottish Government’s own budget for 2016.

The report – into the ‘crime fighting’ Crown Office – which refused to prosecute the driver of the Glasgow bin lorry which left six people dead and injured 15 others in the centre of Glasgow – concludes: “On the whole, the public should have confidence that it is a rigorous and fair prosecutor. “However, the service remains under considerable pressure. There can be no room for complacency.”

The Committee’s inquiry also identified room for improvement in a number of Crown Office functions, including the support given to victims and witnesses – who are often poorly treated by COPFS staff.

However – during 2014 it was reported a senior manager in the Crown Office was suspended after openly criticising the treatment of crime victims.

John Fox, 47, made postings on an internal staff forum accusing his bosses of putting victims of domestic violence at risk. His criticism emerged days after the Sunday Mail newspaper revealed how victims of crime felt betrayed by Scotland’s justice system and were demanding reforms.

Mr Fox was formerly in charge of the 100-strong Victim Information and Advice Service (VIA), responsible for helping to improve services to crime victims and their families across Scotland. One of their tasks is to inform victims of domestic violence about the release from custody of the person charged with attacking them.

In some cases, victims of crime and witness have since alleged Crown Office employees told outright lies.

And, a recent investigation by the media reported key Crown Office employees hold secret criminal convictions for serious offences. The investigation, assisted by documents obtained by Freedom of Information legislation published here: Prosecutors own crime gang revealed  also found some victims and witnesses to crime had been threatened by Crown Office prosecutors and staff.

In a period of just two years – from November 2013 to November 2015 – the Crown Office admitted it retained records showing 15 cases reported to COPFS containing allegations of criminal offences by COPFS staff. Court proceedings were taken in 11 cases, three cases were disposed of by non-court disposal and no proceedings were taken in one case.

The charges brought against staff include assault and vandalism; road traffic offences; threatening and abusive conduct; breach of the peace; Misuse of drugs and offences against the police; data protection offences and an attempt to pervert the course of justice.

The Holyrood enquiry was apparently not handed any of this information. The inquiry did not take  steps to act upon it and quiz COPFS representatives, despite reports being available in the media  and to the inquiry – for some time.

Much of the inquiry’s focus on staff morale heard claims the Crown Office was underfunded and overworked, however figures revealed in a Freedom of Information request for the immediate three years after the collapse of several high street banks & huge cuts to public services – revealed successive Lord Advocates have spent over £572,307,16 on paying supposedly hard up staff everything from mortgages, relocation, rental costs and even phone bills, council tax and personal legal bills.

During financial year 2008/2009, payments made by COPFS for housing, rent or relocation allowances, or help with mortgages to 32 employees were: £212,500.76.
During financial year 2009/2010, payments made by COPFS for housing, rent or relocation allowances, or help with mortgages to 38  employees were £242,586.59.
During financial year 2010/2011, payments made by COPFS for housing, rent or relocation allowances, or help with mortgages to  26 employees were £117,220.14.

The cash expenses & junkets claims from COPFS staff continue, with figures released in another Freedom of Information request revealing a whopping £137,744.43 spent on further staff perks and junkets in 2014-2016. The FOI revealed:

During financial year 2011/2012, payments made by COPFS for housing, rent or relocation allowances, or help with mortgages to 16 employees were £85,513.21.
During financial year 2012/2013,payments made by COPFS for housing, rent or relocation allowances, or help with mortgages to   8 employees were £38,711.35.
During financial year 2013/2014, payments made by COPFS for housing, rent or relocation allowances, or help with mortgages to  5 employees were £13,519.87.

The cash expenses & junkets claims from COPFS staff continue, with figures released in another Freedom of Information request revealing a further £28,090 spent on further staff mortgages, rent , phone bills, legal bills and other perks and junkets in 2014-2016. However, these figures are now thought to be in dispute – and of a much higher sum than was originally quoted by the Crown Office. Nevertheless the FOI revealed:

Payments made by COPFS for housing, rent or relocation allowances, or help with mortgages, for COPFS staff including Procurators Fiscal from 1 April 2014 to 31 March 2016, were made by 33  COPFS employees, totalling an extra £28,090.

A separate Freedom of Information request revealed the hard-up Crown Office media unit spent over £376,168.06 in one year alone on media relations – this despite the Lord Advocate’s staff of 6 full time media staff and one part time employee – operating a policy of “no comment” to journalists – who are in increasing numbers of cases told to put their request for comment in a Freedom of Information request.

And, an investigation by the Sunday Mail newspaper in 2011 established the Lord Advocate had authorised massive bonuses for Crown Office staff who pocketed bonus payments of more than £580,000 in just two years.

Figures released via Freedom of Information requests revealed 419 COPFS employees shared payouts totalling £326,844 in 2009-2010, while 518 COPFS staff were handed £253,330 for 2010-11.

In 2009-2010, eight employees of the Crown Office received Bonuses of up to £20,000 while a further 15 COPFS employees received bonuses of up to £8,000.

In the same year up to 200 members of staff received bonus pay-outs of up to £500 while a further 200 COPFS employees were paid bonuses of up to £1000 each.

And, an investigation by the Scottish Sun newspaper revealed supposedly hard up Crown Office staff were travelling to international destinations all bankrolled by taxpayers cash.

The allegedly hard up Crown Office spent more than £57,000 of taxpayers’ cash last year alone flying staff across the globe. Hong Kong, Mauritius, Taiwan and New York were among 15 exotic destinations visited by Crown Office employees. And since 2012, they have taken off on a total of 109 international flights to places like South Africa, Australia and Malta.

The Crown, led by Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland, racked up £29,504 on 39 international flights to meetings and conferences last year and £27,603 on 143 domestic trips.The number of overseas flights has remained fairly steady over three years at 36, 34 then 39. But domestic flights have increased sharply from 97 to 131, then 143 last year.

Amsterdam was the most common destination, with 30 trips since 2012. The Dutch city is a major travel hub and close to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Flights to Washington DC and Malta were in connection with the ongoing probe into the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

While the information has been available in the public arena for some time, COPFS representatives appearing in front of the Justice Committee did not face any lines of questioning of the massive cash spends on personal junkets, mortgages, rent and other bills accumulated by staff who managed to have them all paid off by taxpayers.

The Justice Committee also had to make do without attendance of Scotland’s top judge and other members of the judiciary after Lord Carloway issued a letter to all branches level of the judiciary informing them of his decision to refuse to give evidence to the Justice Committee’s probe into the Crown Office.

Lord Carloway  – who earns £222,862 a year for his role as Lord President & Lord Justice General – said the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service (SCTS) should give evidence to the Justice Committee, rather than individual members of the judiciary – even retired ones

Carloway’s letter went out to every high court judge, the Sheriffs’ Association and the Scottish Justices Association (SJA) – which represents Justices of the Peace.

After Lord Carloway’s decision to refuse to attend the Justice Committee was made known – the SJA pulled out of its scheduled appearance in front of MSPs.

The report found that Scotland’s public prosecutor is coping in its core role of steering trials through the courts to an appropriate outcome, but the level of adjournments and postponements is unacceptably high and inadequate communication is a key problem.

It recommends that the COPFS develop more efficient and effective ways to update people whose attendance is no longer required at a trial.

It also says the COPFS should consider concerns raised about the erosion of prosecutors’ autonomy and discretion, the lack of preparation time and the consequences for morale.

Justice Committee convener Margaret Mitchell said: “An effective Crown Office is fundamental to an effective criminal justice system in Scotland.”

Ms Mitchell continued: “The committee heard many concerns during our inquiry. Across the board, witnesses identified possible improvements which could be made to how COPFS works – and better serve justice and the public. This report, its findings on the service’s strengths and weaknesses, and its recommendations are a considered, cross-party view following six months of work. These findings must be taken into account by COPFS management and the Scottish Government. There is no room for complacency, and the committee will be keeping close watch on developments.”

Justice Committee report – Role and Purpose of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service

Focussing on areas of Crown Office operation, the following excerpts are reproduced from the Committee’s final report:

Digital strategy

110. The “vision” of the Digital Strategy, published in 2014, is “to have modern, user-focused justice systems which use digital justice technology to deliver simple, fast and effective justice at best cost”. It is estimated by the Scottish Government that full implementation of the strategy across the entire justice sector (including the administrative and civil spheres) could save some £20-25 million per annum. The strategy sets out three objectives—

allow people and businesses to access the right information at the right time, principally by expanding online the amount of available information about the justice system. This objective also includes a commitment, by the end of 2017, to enable victims of crime to track their case online;

fully digitised justice systems;

make data work for us, ie collect and use data including stakeholder feedback to develop a more efficient and responsive justice system.

111. It is the second of these objectives that appears to have most potential to unlock efficiencies in the prosecution system, particularly in tandem with complementary reforms envisaged under the Evidence and Procedure Review. It includes plans for—

a “digital evidence vault” enabling the secure storage of all digital evidence in civil and criminal cases;

greatly increased use of live video links to reduce the need for accused, victims and witnesses to have to come to court in all instances;

the serving of more court documentation (eg arrest warrants) digitally; and

disclosure by the COPFS of all evidence to defence agents electronically.

112. The strategy also envisages the police being equipped with body-worn cameras and the integration of all legacy force ICT services within Police Scotland. The Committee notes the potential impact of these objectives on the prosecution of crimes, although they are not within the direct remit of this inquiry. Scrutiny of these issues is within the current work programme of the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing

and on

Evidence and Procedure Review

113. Lord Carloway’s March 2015 Evidence and Procedure Review concluded that the conduct of criminal trials needs to change because the process had not kept pace with entry into a digital age. The main recommendations related to—

child and vulnerable witnesses: as much as possible, taking evidence from them should be removed from the courtroom setting;

digital evidence: audio and video witness statements should ordinarily be admissible. This was seen as paving the way for the elimination of written witness statements, in most cases, in the future;

modernising criminal trial procedures: in essence, shifting the weight of trial preparation to earlier in the process, in part through greater judicial case management. Trial dates should only be fixed when it is clear that the case will be ready to run on the relevant date.

114. This was followed by a February 2016 “next steps” paper, setting out proposals on which the SCTS is currently working.158 These are intended to build on Lord Carloway’s three main recommendations and to align with relevant objectives in the digital strategy. The overall vision is of a more streamlined criminal justice system, with far less evidence having to be led in the courtroom.

115. As set out in the preceding section, the Lord Advocate and Crown Agent both indicated the COPFS’s readiness for reform, and said they saw real opportunities for progress, particularly in relation to the work of the Evidence and Procedure Review.The Crown Agent said the goal was to crystallise as much evidence as possible in advance of the actual trial.160 Amongst other things, this would greatly reduce the need for witnesses to attend trials – and the non-attendance of witnesses is one of the main causes of churn.

116. The Cabinet Secretary also set out his strong support for the Review. However, he referred in addition to a need for a “cultural change” on the part of all stakeholders if the full benefits of the Review were to be realised. He indicated that legislation would be required at some point to implement elements of the Review.

and on ‘Specialist Prosecutions’ MSPs heard evidence from a former COPFS Prosecutor linked to events in the David Goodwillie rape case – where the victim was forced to sue her assailant through the civil courts after the Lord Advocate refused to prosecute the footballer.

Specialist prosecutions

167. The Committee sought views on whether the COPFS had the appropriate skillsets it needed to carry out its prosecutorial role. This includes prosecuting the wide range of different crimes that the COPFS may encounter, ranging from historic child sexual abuse to corporate accounting fraud. As noted elsewhere in the report, the COPFS has moved towards greater specialisation in recent years, setting up offices dealing with sexual offences, serious and organised crime, and international cooperation, amongst others. The Committee notes that, in a relatively small jurisdiction such as Scotland, there are limits to this approach. There may be some types of case that only come before the criminal courts a handful of times in a few years, but which are of a particular complexity. It is hard to build up specialist expertise in such cases. Derek Ogg QC, a former head of the COPFS sexual offences unit told the Committee that, if there is considered to be a lack of in-house specialism to prosecute particularly complex crimes coming before the High Court, this could be addressed by borrowing that expertise; recruiting “locum” advocates depute with experience in that field for the duration of the case.

168. Some submissions expressed the view that the COPFS did not always have the specialist skillsets needed to prosecute certain types of crime as effectively as it should, for instance corporate or regulatory offences.HM Revenue and Customs gave positive evidence about its working relationship with the COPFS in the prosecution of crimes in which it was involved, although it indicated that the COPFS’s relative under-resourcing in some areas, for instance technology, sometimes put it under strain.

Centralised policy-making and local autonomy

184. The COPFS is a national service aspiring to achieve consistently high standards across Scotland. It is in the public interest that both accused and victims should expect the same professional standard of prosecution wherever their case calls. There was a consensus in evidence that the COPFS has become a more centralised organisation in recent years. Some evidence broadly welcomed this, but the Committee also heard views that this process had gone too far; to the point where it was impacting negatively on the COPFS’s effectiveness as a public prosecutor. Whether the COPFS was striking the right balance between pursuing centrally driven policies and letting local prosecutors take their own decisions emerged as one of the key themes of the inquiry.

Specialisation and central case-marking

185. A closely related issue is that of specialisation. In effect, specialisation is a form of centralisation, as it means that a small group of specialist prosecutors will tend to determine national approach to prosecuting particular crimes wherever they occur.

186. Specialisation has included the setting up a case-marking unit around 15 years ago. Local fiscals no longer mark cases at the initial stage of the prosecution. Instead, there are two centres – at Paisley and Stirling – where practically all cases are now marked. As the Committee understands it, the case marking process may involve not only a determination as to whether or not a case should be prosecuted, but further instructions on how to handle the case, for instance whether to accept plea bargains and, if so, on what basis.

Other types of specialisation

187. The setting up of a national sexual crimes unit at the COPFS in 2009 was welcomed by many stakeholders. They thought it had led to such cases (which now constitute around 70% of all High Court cases) being better handled at least at a strategic and policy level, with the views and interests of victims and their advocates better taken account of. This was the view of organisations including Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis. Susan Gallagher of Victim Support Scotland told the Committee that her organisation’s experience of centralisation – or specialisation – as it applied to victims was largely positive; it was when the Victim Information and Advice service had become more decentralised that inconsistency had crept back in.As noted above, the setting up of a specialist wildlife crime unit was also welcomed by stakeholders as having helped professionalise the COPFS’s approach to these offences.

Views from COPFS representatives

199. The FDA, representing fiscals, took a balanced view of the move towards a more centralised and more specialist service in recent year, recognising that it had its advantages and disadvantages. However, it was overall considered to have been positive. In relation to case-marking, the union’s Rachael Weir told the Committee that she considered it had been beneficial because it had led to greater specialist expertise in case marking being built up.

200. As noted elsewhere in the report, the Lord Advocate publicly affirmed his confidence in COPFS staff as the organisation’s “greatest asset” and expressed his “absolute trust and confidence in the judgment of those who prosecute on my behalf up and down the country”. However, the COPFS also made clear in its evidence to the Committee that one of the drivers of the move towards centralisation had been a desire to achieve greater consistency, and a higher quality public service overall.Overall, nothing in the COPFS’s evidence indicated to the Committee that the COPFS was minded to fundamentally reconsider its approach, in the light of views that had been expressed. The Lord Advocate cited learned authority from the 19th century that it was his role to ensure “the due and equal distribution of criminal justice”, so that all may have equal protection under the law, in order to underline that the concept of achieving consistency in prosecution policy was not a new one. It was his view that the current system did allow for some flexibility—

The system can accommodate matters that are of concern in local areas. Indeed, in their reports, the police might identify a particular issue as being a matter of concern. I can put it in this way: through having a national approach, we can ensure that, where there is justification for a variation from the norm to be applied in a particular locality, that is done consistently and does not depend on the views of a particular individual in a particular local area.

201. The Crown Agent said that previous less centralised models had run into problems of their own, such as some courts sitting until late evening. He said that the current system had brought greater professionalism and consistency. Inasmuch as it had probably brought down the number of court sittings, it may have reduced overall costs, although that was not, he stressed, the main reason behind the policy.In relation to the comments of the GBA and others that the current decision-making approach to individual cases can appear opaque and unnecessarily hierarchical, the Crown Agent acknowledged that there was, or had been an issue, explaining that recent internal reforms had led to the number of “approval levels” for ongoing cases being rationalised, with the grade for approval reduced to a local level.

Diversions and local knowledge

202. The Lord Advocate explained to the Committee that teams at the two central case-marking centres are organised by reference to Scotland’s six sheriffdoms. He argued this helped enable case-markers to develop local knowledge of particular areas. In relation to diversions from prosecution, the Lord Advocate said he had reflected on the evidence and posed an open question as to whether it indicated a lack of consistency across the country on the availability of diversion schemes as much as any perceived lack of local knowledge on the part of case markers.

203. Supplementary written evidence from the Crown Agent queried SACRO’s evidence that there had been a trend away from referrals to restorative justice schemes, arguing that it was not strongly supported in the follow-up information SACRO had itself provided to the Committee. The COPFS’s own statistics had indicated a gradual rise in the number of diversions from prosecution over the course of the current decade.The Committee notes that it would require further analysis to determine the extent to which diversions by case markers appear to have had outcomes that could be described as successful.

204. The Crown Agent’s written evidence also queried the JPs’ evidence to the Committee, which he interpreted as being to the effect that—

…prosecutors issue direct measures to avoid the expense of prosecuting cases in court. This is inaccurate and contrary to the Lord Advocate’s policies on decision making. The Scottish Parliament has given prosecutors a range of powers to take action against offenders and we seek to make effective use of all these powers.

205. Both the COPFS and the SCTS referred to statistics indicating that around 80% of direct measures consisting of fines or fixed penalties end up being paid.

206. The Committee notes the COPFS’s view that a drive towards increased centralisation and specialisation is likely to have helped it become a more efficient and professional organisation. The setting up of specialist prosecution units (for instance in relation to sexual offences) has been broadly welcomed. However, evidence has made clear that some trade-offs have been involved. It has been concerning to note evidence that local fiscals may sometimes find themselves running cases against their own professional judgment. The Committee also notes views that increased centralisation may have had an effect on morale and job satisfaction in local offices.

207. The Committee seeks clarification from the COPFS that consideration of the autonomy and decision-making capacity of local fiscals is being taken forward in its current “Fair Futures” programme being developed in consultation with its staff.

208. The Committee notes views that the centralisation of case marking has led to an erosion of knowledge as to the availability of local schemes and programmes where case markers are considering alternatives to prosecution. The Committee asks the Scottish Government to consider whether, if these perceptions are valid, Community Justice Scotland could be invited to address them in its ongoing work to develop a new model for community justice delivery.

209. More generally, the Committee asks the COPFS and Scottish Government as to what monitoring there is of the effectiveness of diversion from prosecution and whether and how the results of that monitoring are fed back to the COPFS for continuous improvement purposes.

Now, turning to the recommendations of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee – funding of the Crown Office comes into sharp focus, despite evidence of massive waste of millions of pounds of taxpayers cash on Crown Office staff:

Recommendations: Resources and funding of the COPFS

The COPFS, in common with agencies across the public sector, has faced significant challenges as a result of a prolonged period of flat-lining budgets. This looks set to continue into 2017-18. The Committee notes the Lord Advocate’s remarks that he considered his 2017-18 budget to be a “sound settlement” that will enable him to continue to provide a fundamentally effective prosecution service.

For the most part, the COPFS has coped in this tougher financial environment as well as can be expected, and its frontline staff deserve credit and recognition for their resilience under sometimes difficult circumstances. It would be unreasonable for the COPFS to continue to rely on the resilience of its staff indefinitely. The Committee considers that change is necessary before the risks that are undoubtedly embedded in the prosecution system, as presently constituted, begin to crystallise.

The Committee agrees with evidence from the COPFS and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice that more efficient ways need to be found to manage the whole prosecution process. Whilst the COPFS is the single most important organisation involved in managing the prosecution process, it cannot achieve this reform on its own. The Committee notes that it is expected that change will be primarily driven by the cross-agency Justice Board, on which the COPFS is represented, and expects the Lord Advocate and Cabinet Secretary to provide the necessary backing for the Board as it proceeds in implementing key elements of the Justice Strategy

The Lord Advocate and Crown Agent have acknowledged in evidence that there is a need to address staffing concerns dating back several years. Above average numbers of staff on short-term contracts, on sick leave, or in long-term temporary promotions are danger signs. The Committee is pleased the current leadership appears to recognise this, to be listening to staff, and to be looking for ways to deal with these issues. The Committee will continue to maintain a watching brief on this issue and requests an update on staffing matters from the COPFS when it responds to this report.

In relations to matters such as job satisfaction and work-life balance, returns from staff surveys in recent years have been concerning. The Committee notes some evidence that, in these areas, the organisation might now be making progress. The Committee also notes evidence and public statements from the Lord Advocate that he has confidence in the judgment of his prosecutors and trusts them to take decisions in his name. However, it is still very early days and, in this context, indications that the COPFS may have to shed around 30 staff in 2017-18 to deal with real-terms budget cuts are worrying. It is difficult to see, given the current pressures staff are under, how further losses are sustainable. The Committee seeks clarification from the COPFS on the operational rationale for job losses and where they will fall.

The Committee also warns the COPFS against an over-reliance on digital solutions to deliver greater efficiencies.

Efficiency of the prosecution service

“Churn” – adjournment and delay of cases scheduled for trial – is one of the main sources of frustration for anyone having to engage with the prosecution process. The Committee accepts that a degree of churn is inevitable and unavoidable, but evidence received over the inquiry indicates that it remains unacceptably high.

The Committee accepts that the problem of delay and inefficiency in the prosecution process cannot be solved by the COPFS acting on its own. The Committee also accepts that churn is a part-consequence of the COPFS’s limited staffing resources, but calls on the COPFS to find methods of mitigating it. For instance, it should be within the capacity of the COPFS to develop more efficient and effective means of notifying those whose attendance is no longer required at a trial. The Committee asks the COPFS and the Scottish Government to take this forward within the Justice Digital Strategy.

The Committee notes evidence that 80% of Crown motions to adjourn arise because of the non-attendance of witnesses. Giving evidence in a trial is a civic duty and failure to do so can be deemed a contempt of court. The Committee accepts that there can be understandable reasons why witnesses do not attend a hearing, but seeks clarification from COPFS and Scottish Government as to: what measures are in place to encourage and, if necessary, ensure witness attendance; the extent to which these measures are being used; and whether alternative approaches are being considered over and above whatever may emerge in due course from the Evidence and Procedure Review.

No blame can be attached to witnesses for non-attendance when they have not in fact been cited to attend court. The Committee is concerned by evidence that the process is sometimes unreliable. The Committee asks the Scottish Government, COPFS and SCTS whether it accepts this evidence and, if so, what measures are being considered to address this, including for instance, the Sheriffs’ Association suggestion of a dedicated COPFS unit to issue citations.

Proposals set out in the Evidence and Procedure Review and the Justice Digital Strategy are welcome and, in some cases, long overdue. Aspects of current criminal law procedure could rightly be described as archaic. The Committee notes the potential for considerable savings to be made if far fewer witnesses are required to attend court and are able to give their evidence in other ways.

However, the Committee notes with concern that the timetable for implementation of some aspects of the Digital Strategy has slipped, with some targets already missed. The Committee further notes that there appears to be no public timetable for implementing the Evidence and Procedure Review.

The Committee asks for a progress report from the Scottish Government in respect of each main element of the Review and the Strategy, setting out the timescale, the anticipated effect on the prosecution process, and where possible, the projected cost saving in relation to each such element.

The Committee also asks for an update from the Scottish Government as to what legislative changes it envisages may be required to unlock the full potential of the Evidence and Procedure Review and the Justice Digital Strategy, and what plans it has in respect of these.

The Committee seeks further information from the Scottish Government as to how proposals to encourage increased judicial case management in the context of criminal proceedings will be progressed and what additional support, if any (eg training), it envisages the judiciary may require in this modified role.

The Committee also seeks further information from the Scottish Government as to whether additional funding will be required to fully implement the Digital Strategy and the Evidence and Procedure Review and, if so, whether these have been costed and what proportion of these costs fall on the COPFS.

Given acknowledged difficulties with the delivery of major IT projects in the public sector, the Committee is concerned that there should not be an over-reliance on information technology to drive reform in the criminal justice system.

Proposals set out in the Evidence and Procedure Review and the Justice Digital Strategy are welcome and, in some cases, long overdue. Aspects of current criminal law procedure could rightly be described as archaic. The Committee notes the potential for considerable savings to be made if far fewer witnesses are required to attend court and are able to give their evidence in other ways.

However, the Committee notes with concern that the timetable for implementation of some aspects of the Digital Strategy has slipped, with some targets already missed. The Committee further notes that there appears to be no public timetable for implementing the Evidence and Procedure Review.

The Committee asks for a progress report from the Scottish Government in respect of each main element of the Review and the Strategy, setting out the timescale, the anticipated effect on the prosecution process, and where possible, the projected cost saving in relation to each such element.

The Committee also asks for an update from the Scottish Government as to what legislative changes it envisages may be required to unlock the full potential of the Evidence and Procedure Review and the Justice Digital Strategy, and what plans it has in respect of these.

The Committee seeks further information from the Scottish Government as to how proposals to encourage increased judicial case management in the context of criminal proceedings will be progressed and what additional support, if any (eg training), it envisages the judiciary may require in this modified role.

The Committee also seeks further information from the Scottish Government as to whether additional funding will be required to fully implement the Digital Strategy and the Evidence and Procedure Review and, if so, whether these have been costed and what proportion of these costs fall on the COPFS.

Given acknowledged difficulties with the delivery of major IT projects in the public sector, the Committee is concerned that there should not be an over-reliance on information technology to drive reform in the criminal justice system.

Effectiveness of the prosecution service

The Committee agrees with the Lord Advocate that the COPFS is, overall, “effective, rigorous, fair and independent” in the prosecution of crime. The evidence received indicates that, in general, Scotland is fundamentally well served by the COPFS in its core role as public prosecutor. However, the same evidence also makes clear that there should be no room for complacency and that the various shortcomings stakeholders have identified must be addressed.

The Committee acknowledges that the criminal justice system has not always prioritised domestic abuse as it should have or treated it with the seriousness it deserves. It was necessary for a clear message to be sent by public agencies working in the system that domestic abuse is unacceptable and would be tackled robustly, in order to give victims confidence that their case would be taken seriously. The COPFS/Police Scotland Joint Protocol on domestic violence has played an important role in that process. The Committee notes the differing views it has received during this inquiry as to the COPFS’s application of the protocol, notes the Lord Advocate’s response to it, and asks the COPFS and the Scottish Government to reflect further on the views that the Committee heard.

The Committee calls on the COPFS and Scottish Government to note evidence as to the quality and consistency of prosecution of those summary cases in relation to which special considerations do not apply by way of Lord Advocate’s guidelines to prosecutors or in the Joint Protocol on domestic abuse. Such cases include instances of antisocial behaviour, crimes of dishonesty or less serious violent crimes. The evidence suggests that these are sometimes under-prioritised.

The Committee acknowledges the COPFS’s evidence that it intends to build stronger relationships with third sector stakeholders in the prosecution of wildlife or environmental crime. The Committee asks the COPFS to respond to views heard in evidence that recommendations in the Scottish Government’s 2008 report Natural Justice, particularly in relation to post-prosecution debriefings, have not been fully implemented, and to set out its plans to address this.

The Committee is concerned by evidence of very low prosecution rates for failure to hold employer’s liability insurance, noting that the consequences of failing to be properly insured can be devastating for individuals and families. The Committee welcomes the COPFS’s commitment to explore the reasons behind the low number of referrals with relevant reporting agencies and requests an update from the COPFS.

The Committee seeks the COPFS’s view on whether there is merit in recruiting locum prosecutors to prosecute High Court cases turning on complex and specialist aspects of criminal law such as corporate fraud or health and safety breaches and, if so, whether this is part of its current practice.

The Committee is concerned by evidence that the courts are sometimes being asked to take decisions on bail without access to the full range of relevant information. This may lead to decisions being made that are not necessarily in the public interest, for instance to refuse bail on the basis of the accused’s homelessness. Whilst the safety of the public and the integrity of the prosecution process must be the paramount considerations, the public interest is not served by individuals being remanded when more suitable alternatives may be available. The Committee asks the COPFS and Scottish Government, on behalf of the Scottish Prison Service, to respond to this evidence.

The Committee notes the COPFS’s view that a drive towards increased centralisation and specialisation is likely to have helped it become a more efficient and professional organisation. The setting up of specialist prosecution units (for instance in relation to sexual offences) has been broadly welcomed. However, evidence has made clear that some trade-offs have been involved. It has been concerning to note evidence that local fiscals may sometimes find themselves running cases against their own professional judgment. The Committee also notes views that increased centralisation may have had an effect on morale and job satisfaction in local offices.

The Committee seeks clarification from the COPFS that consideration of the autonomy and decision-making capacity of local fiscals is being taken forward in its current “Fair Futures” programme being developed in consultation with its staff.

The Committee notes views that the centralisation of case marking has led to an erosion of knowledge as to the availability of local schemes and programmes where case markers are considering alternatives to prosecution. The Committee asks the Scottish Government to consider whether, if these perceptions are valid, Community Justice Scotland could be invited to address them in its ongoing work to develop a new model for community justice delivery.

More generally, the Committee asks the COPFS and Scottish Government as to what monitoring there is of the effectiveness of diversion from prosecution and whether and how the results of that monitoring are fed back to the COPFS for continuous improvement purposes.

Victims and witnesses and the COPFS

The Committee supports the principle that the COPFS prosecutes in the public interest and not directly in the interests of individual victims of crime: it is not “the victim’s lawyer”. The Committee understands that this may sometimes lead to difficult decisions being made that victims find painful. However, the Committee considers that the principle is key to protecting the independence and integrity of the prosecution service.

The Committee considers that there is no inherent contradiction between putting the public interest first during the prosecution process and putting victim care at the heart of criminal justice system, In particular, victims have a right to be listened to and to be treated with respect and sensitivity. Their views matter and they should be consulted, whenever possible, at appropriate points in the prosecution process.

The Committee considers that an effective, efficient and fair COPFS in everyone’s interests; accused, victims and witnesses alike. The Committee is therefore concerned by evidence that a lack of preparation time means that time limits in solemn trials are being “routinely” exceeded and seeks the COPFS’s response.

The Committee also asks the COPFS to respond to evidence that its general policy is not to seek the withdrawal of warrants for arrest of an accused for non-attendance, even where there may be exculpatory or mitigating factors. The Committee accepts that non-appearance for a court hearing is a serious matter but asks the COPFS to respond to concerns that, if this is its policy, it may impact disproportionately on vulnerable people.

The Committee asks the COPFS and Scottish Government to clarify what information (if any) public agencies must provide to families and dependents of accused people and what measures are in place to ensure that the information is provided. The Committee seeks clarification from the COPFS and Scottish Government as to what measures are in place to ensure that family members or vulnerable adults accused or convicted of a crime are contacted and notified.

The Committee considers that the safety and mental welfare of victims, balanced against the accused’s right to a fair trial, should be at the forefront of consideration during the prosecution process. The Committee asks the COPFS and Scottish Government to confirm whether it is their understanding that Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 imposes legal duties on the COPFS, and other agencies, in relation to the hostile cross-examination of witnesses during a criminal trial and, if so, to clarify what practices and policies are in place to ensure that relevant legal requirements are met.

The Committee welcomes the Victims’ Code for Scotland and considers that the pamphlet should be available to all victims at their first point of contact with the criminal justice system. The Committee seeks clarification from the COPFS and Scottish Government as to current practices in relation to making the Code available.

The Committee welcomes ongoing work under the Evidence and Procedure Review to reform the way in which children give evidence during a trial but repeats its earlier concern that there is no publication date for the review’s findings.

The Committee notes that the aspiration is to make taking evidence from children in a courtroom setting the exception rather than the norm. Any reforms must continue to allow the defence to challenge and test the evidence. The Committee looks forwards to considering detailed proposals as they emerge.

The Committee welcomes the additional funding that the Cabinet Secretary provided for the victim fund, which assists families of murder victims, in the 2016-17 financial year. The Committee asks the Scottish Government to keep the fund under review to ensure that it is adequate.

The Committee considers that the evidence taken from victims of crime set out serious failings by the criminal justice system, of which the COPFS is a key component, to provide the confidence necessary for these victims to participate in court proceedings. These failings including a lack of communications, misinformation, delays and adjournments, have resulted in some of these victims concluding that they would never have reported the crime in the first place. The Committee considers that this is unacceptable and must be addressed as a priority, and repeats its view that it is imperative that the COPFS finds more effective methods for passing on accurate up-to-date information about trials in real time to all stakeholders, victims especially. The Committee acknowledges that the reasons for adjournments in criminal trials are complex and that the COPFS bears only partial responsibility for them.

The Committee asks the COPFS to clarify the extent to which it takes into account the vulnerability of victims and witnesses, and the risk to them of a prolonged or delayed prosecution process, in determining the prioritisation of cases, in the light of evidence that delays in hearing cases can disproportionately damage the mental welfare of vulnerable adults.

The Committee recognises the valuable role played by the Victim Information and Advice Service, and that there has been praise for the contribution of VIA staff members in evidence. The Committee recognises that the COPFS’s resources are finite and limited and prevent it providing as much assistance as it would like. At the same time, there are lessons for the COPFS as a whole to learn as to the way it sometimes communicates with victims of crime and with other prosecution witnesses.

Reforms under the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 have significantly widened the duties owed to victims and witnesses and have been widely welcomed. The COPFS, in common with other public agencies, is still adjusting to these changes. The Committee is concerned by evidence appearing to indicate that some of the key rights secured by that legislation are not yet a reality for victims and witnesses in their journey through the criminal justice system. The Committee asks the COPFS and Scottish Government to respond to this evidence, and to evidence that victims and witnesses are not always aware of their rights.

The Committee welcomes the Lord Advocate’s acknowledgement that the COPFS might benefit from examining the process of giving evidence from the victim’s perspective in order to see whether it could be improved.

The Committee is concerned by evidence that vulnerable witnesses did not always obtain the special measures that they had requested and that where some special measures (for instance, screens) were provided, they were not always adequate. Evidence that victims and witnesses did not always feel secure outwith the courtroom setting during the trial process is also concerning. The Committee notes that, as well as potentially affecting victims’ and witnesses’ mental welfare, this might affect the evidence they give, or in extreme cases lead them not to give evidence at all.

The Committee recommends that the COPFS carry out an audit of victims and witnesses entitled to special measures in order to determine (a) whether they are aware of their rights to ask for special measures, (b) whether reasonable requests for non-standard special measures are being met, and (c) the extent to which the provision of special measures actually assisted the individual in providing evidence and, if not, what lessons could be learned from this.

Under the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014, the COPFS is required to take reasonable steps to enable victims and their families to avoid the accused during a trial. The Committee seeks clarification from the COPFS as to how it exercises that duty in practice and whether it makes victims and their families aware of its existence.

The Committee was concerned by evidence as to the lack of contact between victims and prosecutors during trial preparation, leading in some cases to a perception from victims that the Crown was not well prepared when it came to the trial. The Committee notes the explanation provided by the COPFS as to why, in the vast majority of cases, it is no longer considered appropriate to precognose victims and witnesses. However, the Committee also notes evidence that precognition by the Crown, amongst other things, may help evidence be agreed earlier, and thus help cases resolve more quickly, which is one of the main aims of the Evidence and Procedure Review. The Committee asks the COPFS to respond to this evidence.

Evidence received over the course of this inquiry shows a divergence between the intentions of the COPFS and the experience of many victims. Victims can be re-traumatised by what can come across as a mechanistic process that does not always appear to have their interests at heart. Victims and witnesses are sometimes made to feel like an afterthought. This is a system-wide problem but the COPFS, as the key organisation within the prosecution process, bears its share of responsibility. Any comprehensive solution must also be system-wide.

The Committee notes Dr Lesley Thomson’s Review of Victim Care in the Justice Sector in Scotland. Whilst welcoming the Review as a valuable contribution to the current debate as to how best to cater for victims within the prosecution process, the Committee considers that many of its conclusions have been voiced before but not acted upon.

The Committee requests a detailed response from the COPFS and the Scottish Government as to the main conclusions in the Review, including which recommendations they propose to accept, and what legislative reforms may be necessary in the light of this. The Committee further requests from the COPFS and Scottish Government a timetable for implementing recommendations in the Review. The Committee also seeks their views on the Review’s proposal that victims should have access to a single point of contact providing advice and support during their journey through the criminal justice process.

The Committee notes that the number of referrals to the VIA service has risen sharply (by around 45% in seven years) and that the Thomson Review estimates an additional 4000 referrals per annum in future thanks to recent legislative reforms. The Committee considers that without additional resource for VIA, there will almost certainly be adverse consequences for its ability to work effectively.

The Committee calls for the COPFS to audit the work VIA currently undertakes in order to come to a view on where the main demands on its services come from and whether there are areas of unmet need.

The Committee makes these recommendations in the context of what it recognises as an ongoing debate as to the future role of the VIA service. The Committee considers that obtaining more information on VIA’s current workload and on unmet need may help clarify next steps in relation to that debate.

The Inspectorate of Prosecutions

The Inspectorate of Prosecutions in Scotland has an important role to play in ensuring the effectiveness and efficiency of the prosecution system and the Committee supports its work. The inquiry has laid bare the Inspectorate’s very low public profile, even amongst criminal justice stakeholders. Whilst the Inspectorate is not a public-facing complaints-handling organisation or an advocacy body, it requires the input of informed experts and stakeholders to add value to its scrutiny work.

The Committee is therefore concerned at the lack of stakeholder awareness of the Inspectorate’s output, given that its reports have touched on matters of genuine public interest.

The Committee notes the Inspectorate’s assurances that it recognises its low profile as a concern and proposes to address it. The Committee requests an update from the Inspectorate as to what work is planned and would welcome the Scottish Government’s view on what the Inspectorate proposes.

The Committee notes that it helps the Inspectorate to have ex-COPFS staff working on its investigations. They bring with them a wealth of knowledge about how the service works that is likely to add to the quality of its output. However, the Committee considers that the Inspectorate has not currently got the balance quite right. This applies particularly to the practice of recruiting most assistant inspectors from the COPFS on secondment.

The Committee notes the Inspector’s assurances that she has never been influenced to change a recommendation in her reports. However, perceptions matter, and current arrangements contribute to a perception that the Inspectorate may not be as independent from the COPFS as it was intended to be. The Committee requests the Scottish Government to reflect on these views and to respond to them.

Finally, the Committee asks the Inspector to take into account conclusions and recommendations about the COPFS made elsewhere in this report when considering her next programme of inspections.

LET’S DO JUSTICE DIFFERENTLY – JAMES WOLFFE QC

At a meeting on 17 January 2017, MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee took evidence from Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC – who told MSPs ongoing reviews suggested a “need to do criminal justice in really quite a different way”.

In the months since James Wolffe made this statement to MSPs, Wolffe has embarked on a public relations offensive in order to bring the thorny question of the removal of corroboration – a safeguard against miscarriage of justice – from Scotland’s criminal justice system – in order to secure what COPFS agents believe would be a vastly higher conviction rate – if the requirement of two independent sources of verification for evidence was dropped.

Appearing in sympathetic press, Wolffe has made known he now sides with the abolishment of corroboration and a wholesale change of the way criminal prosecutions are handled in Scotland.

However, critics say the Crown Office cannot be trusted with such radical alterations to Scots Criminal law – pointing to high levels of corruption at the Crown Office including staff who themselves hold criminal records for serious offences, and the widely known fact COPFS is heavily compromised by criminal informants, as well as legal staff who have tipped off other crooks including lawyers & financiers linked to major criminal investigations.

And – moves to drop corroboration in the past have been condemned as little more than a policy move to allow Prosecutors to make up evidence as they go along in Criminal Trials.

Legal figures from across Scotland have indicated it is their view that if  corroboration were removed from the Criminal justice system, trials would be likely to see an increase in all kinds of dodgy statements & evidence used by desperate prosecutors out for a conviction at any cost.

Evidence from Police Officers too has been widely criticised by several members of the judiciary who contend officers have knowingly given false, and at times corrupt evidence in  Scotland’s Sheriff and High Courts of Justiciary.

Legal insiders have since tipped off the media the Crown Office has conducted an internal consultation on how to ‘reinvigorate’ moves to abolish corroboration and return the issue to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee – where MSPS previously concluded only two years ago that corroboration must remain as part of Scotland’s justice system.

The Justice Committee’s decision came from an impassioned address by Lord Brian Gill, who rightly supported the retention of corroboration as a safeguard to ensure the right to a fair trial across the spectrum of Scotland’s criminal justice system.

The Justice Committee – then under the chair of MSP Christine Grahame MSP, had previously heard from anti-corroboration protagonists Lord Carloway – who is now Scotland’s top judge, and the then Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland – who Carloway has since appointed to a £180k judicial post at the Court of Session.

The Justice Committee remained unconvinced of the merits of abolishing corroboration after hearing from Carloway, Mulholland and a plethora of other groups & vested interests.

Lord Advocate James Wolffe is also facing serious questions to answer over his role in a growing scandal around cash bungs and payments to members of the Faculty of Advocates – while Wolffe was Dean of Faculty.

An ongoing media investigation into a case in which a judge & privy councillor failed to declare links to his son – who was at the time representing a construction company which admitted an incident of unlawfully dumping contaminated waste – has established a QC representing the pursuer was paid large sums of cash after he demanded the payments “in any form except beads”.

An investigation into the payments – which breach Faculty rules -, and evidence of alleged malpractice by the QC was covered up while Wolffe was Dean of Faculty.

Now, the case has re-entered the headlines as calls grow for a full investigation into legal regulators including Wolffe’s Faculty of Advocates – who dismissed the complaint without even looking at it.

Video footage of two appearances by Crown Office agents including the Lord Advocate – James Wolffe QC, follow:

Scottish Parliament Justice Committee 17 January 2017 – COPFS Inquiry & other business

Committee convener Margaret Mitchell said the probe had “unearthed some serious concerns”.

She said: “From the amount of time wasted through trials not proceeding on schedule, to the workload of prosecutors and the support offered to the victims and witnesses who appear at court. “The justice committee will publish its conclusions in due course, but we hope that the Lord Advocate will have listened to the legitimate concerns raised so far.”

Conservative justice spokesman Douglas Ross pressed the Lord Advocate on whether there would be “an overhaul of the justice system” in light of concerns raised.

Mr Wolffe said he acknowledged the challenges COPFS faces, saying “significant reform” was ongoing, with a process review suggesting “the need to do criminal justice in really quite a different way”.

Crown Agent David Harvie, the professional head of the service, said there was a “very strong argument for system change” within the justice system, and “a need and an opportunity for transformational change”.

Staff surveys have noted that 40% of Crown Office staff don’t wish to stay in the service in the long term – although Mr Wolffe argued that this is “considerably higher” than the average in the civil service, saying things were moving in the right direction. He also argued that there should be no lack of confidence in the fundamental work of COPFS, with a conviction rate of 80% in cases prosecuted.

Mr Harvie said the “vast majority” of individuals were provided with a good service, although he said he “accepts and regrets” that some had been failed.

In response to further questions about staff issues, Mr Wolffe said “we are not complacent about it”, but added that “there is encouragement to be taken” from staff surveys. He said the service had “come a remarkable distance” in his lifetime, from a position where the criminal justice system paid no regard to the needs of witnesses.

The Lord Advocate highlighted communication and support for victims and vulnerable witnesses as a particular area of focus for ongoing improvements, with ambition to deal with evidence from children and vulnerable people in a different way.

Ms Mitchell said there was a “fundamental problem” over communications with victims of sexual assault in particular, with Mr Harvie agreeing this was an issue worthy of “significant reflection” and further work.

Under the current budget draft, the Crown Office budget is maintained in cash terms, which equates to a real-terms cut.

Mr Harvie told members that £1.5m of savings had been targeted, with half of the sum coming from staff costs.

He said “probably around 30” jobs would be cut, by not replacing staff who leave or retire. The other half of the savings will come from areas like expert witness costs and pathology, although Mr Harvie conceded there was a “risk” that some could also come from staffing – albeit “not a significant risk”.

Mr Wolffe previously appeared at Holyrood to give evidence about the draft budget, at which point he argued the Crown Office had adequate resources to fulfil its role.

Scottish Parliament Justice Committee 20 December 2016 COPFS Inquiry & other business

Concluding MSPs probe of the Crown Office, Justice Committee convener Margaret Mitchell said: “An effective Crown Office is fundamental to an effective criminal justice system in Scotland.The committee heard many concerns during our inquiry. Across the board, witnesses identified possible improvements which could be made to how COPFS works – and better-serve justice and the public. These findings must be taken into account by COPFS management and the Scottish government.”

Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC said: “It is gratifying that the committee has concluded that COPFS is an effective, rigorous, fair and independent public prosecutor.It states that, in general, the public in Scotland is fundamentally well-served by the COPFS in that core role. That is, in large part, a tribute to the professionalism and commitment of the staff of the service. The committee has made a number of recommendations and I will wish to take time to reflect on all of those recommendations.”

For a more substantive reporting on the Crown Office, read previously articles here: Scotland’s Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service – previous reports and on the office of Lord Advocate here: Scotland’s Lord Advocate – Top crime officer leaves much doubt on justice.

Have a problem with the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service? Tips to tell on cases, prosecutions or presentation of dodgy evidence? Tell us more about it in confidence, by email to scottishlawreporters@gmail.com

 

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POLICING SECRETS: Former Scottish Police Authority board member Moi Ali invited to give evidence at Holyrood, after MSPs accuse SPA bosses of running Police watchdog like Kremlin ‘secret society’

Former SPA Board member & crusading JCR Moi Ali. A FORMER Board member of the Scottish Police Authority SPA) – who resigned after raising concerns over a lack of transparency at the Police watchdog – has been invited to give evidence to MSPs investigating secrecy and a lack of accountability at the Police supervisory body.

The decision by the Public Audit and Post Legislative Scrutiny Committee of the Scottish Parliament to invite former SPA Board member Moi Ali to give evidence – came after a meeting on Thursday, where bosses at the Scottish Police Authority faced tough questions from MSPs on secrecy, alleged cover-ups and the “appalling” treatment of critics.

During the stormy evidence session with MSPs, Andrew Flanagan, chairman of the Scottish Police Authority was forced to admit he withheld a letter from colleagues which criticised plans to hold board committee meetings in private, leading to accusations the chairman was treating other board members “like infants”.

In animated exchanges during the meeting held on Thursday last week, Former Cabinet Minister & Committee member Alex Neil MSP (SNP Airdrie and Shotts) told SPA Chairman Andrew Flanagan he was running a “secret society”.

Mr Neil said: “This is not the Kremlin you are running, it is supposed to be an open public body. We have this secret society … inside the board … deciding on transparency of governance and the whole thing is done without public knowledge, without people out there being able to hold this board to account.”

Replying to Alex Neil on the matter of not sharing the letter, Mr Flanagan said “I didn’t think it was necessary to circulate the letter itself.”

However – Mr Neil told Mr Flanagan he had breached “every rule in the book” by refusing to share the document with the rest of the SPA Board.

Alex Neil went on to describe the Scottish Police Authority as “a shambles”.

Scottish Police Authority – Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee – Scottish Parliament: 20th April 2017

The full transcript of the meeting has now been published, available here: Official Report: Public Audit & Post Legislative Scrutiny Committee 20 April 2017

A revealing sample of the Official Report, where Committee member Alex Neil MSP questions witnesses from the Scottish Police Authority & Scottish Government follows:

Alex Neil (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP): I want to address the issue of the letter dated 9 December 2016 from Derek Penman, Her Majesty’s chief inspector of constabulary, to Andrew Flanagan,chair of the board, in which Mr Penman makes a number of substantive points about the governance of the SPA. When was the letter dated 9 December circulated to the board?

Andrew Flanagan (Scottish Police Authority): I do not think that it has been circulated to the board.

Alex Neil: It has not been circulated to the board. The letter is from the chief inspector of constabulary about the governance of the SPA, in which he makes substantial points. He specifically says: “I accept that it will properly be a matter for the Board to approve the Corporate Governance Framework and my comments are intended solely to inform members ahead of their decision next week”, which was five days after the letter was sent. Why was the letter not circulated to the board?

Andrew Flanagan: That was because the issues themselves had been well trailed and were well known. Derek Penman’s position on those matters had been expressed to members of the board and so was known. Therefore, I did not think it necessary to circulate the letter itself.

Alex Neil: It is not within your remit to make a decision like that. Under the guidelines and under statute, every board member is entitled to know what the chief inspector of constabulary says. Those were substantive points that, in many respects, were very critical of the governance review. Surely to goodness the letter should have gone to every board member before the meeting in December.

Andrew Flanagan: As I have said, the board members were already aware of the comments that Derek Penman expressed. That had been discussed at our meeting on 5 December and a number of the matters had been covered at that point.

Alex Neil: I find that very unacceptable indeed. It breaches every rule in the book about the role of a chair, particularly of a public organisation, and about the issuance of letters to board members. Every board member should have had a copy of that letter and it should have been discussed at that board meeting in December. You are not running the Kremlin; the SPA is supposed to be an open public body in which you are accountable to the board members. The view of the chief inspector, who has statutory responsibility for such matters, as it was set out in that letter, should clearly have been sent to every board member.

Andrew Flanagan: The letter was addressed to me and I believed that the matters had already been covered by the board and that members were aware of them.

Alex Neil: It was addressed to you, but Mr Penman said clearly that he wanted the letter to go to every board member. He specifically said that the letter was to inform board members at their meeting next week before they reached any decisions, but you took a unilateral decision not to circulate that to board members.

Andrew Flanagan: Yes, I did. As I said, the contents of it were well known to board members.

Alex Neil: That is not the point. The letter should have been circulated. Mr Foley, did you know that it was not being circulated to board members? Did you see the letter?

John Foley (Scottish Police Authority): I do not recall seeing it at that particular point in time.

Alex Neil: So the chief executive did not see the letter either.

John Foley: I may have seen it, but I do not recall it.

Alex Neil: You may have seen it. It is a very important letter from the chief inspector of constabulary. Either you saw the letter before the meeting or you did not. Yes or no, did you see the letter before the board meeting?

John Foley: I am telling you that I do not recall seeing it. I recall having conversations with Mr Penman around that time and him expressing his views to me clearly. Having seen the letter and read it in recent days, I find that it is in accord with a conversation that I had at the time, in which Mr Penman expressed his views.

Alex Neil: So you have seen the letter only in recent days.

John Foley: No, I do not recall seeing it at that point in time, but I might have seen it. A large number of letters come through my office. I just do not recall seeing that one.

Alex Neil: To be honest, given the three years of failure at the SPA, I find it hard to believe that its chief executive does not recall seeing a letter of that importance and with those contents. You do not recall whether you saw it. You are the chief executive and the accountable officer.

John Foley: Mr Neil, I cannot tell you that I did if I do not recall it, and I do not recall it.

Alex Neil: Presumably, every time that you receive a letter, it is date stamped. Is that correct?

John Foley: They usually come in via email. That letter is not addressed to me. I am saying that I might have seen a copy of it. It might have been sent to me; I do not know. I do not recall it, but I did not see an original letter that came in at that time, addressed to the chair.

Alex Neil: Right, so the chief executive did not see the letter—or does not recall doing so. Mr Johnston, when did you become aware of the letter?

Paul Johnston (Scottish Government): I cannot give a specific date when I was aware of the letter. I have discussions with Derek Penman, as chief inspector of constabulary, and I have certainly been aware of some of the concerns that he has had and of the issues that he has raised with the SPA. Indeed, he will shortly undertake a full inspection that will cover those matters. Don McGillivray might wish to say more about the sequencing of when the Scottish Government received particular pieces of documentation.

Don McGillivray (Scottish Government): I saw the letter at the time. The Scottish Government received it at the time, as a courtesy side copy, in hard copy from Derek Penman, on an informal basis. It was passed to me very informally, as a hard copy.

Alex Neil: We learned from this morning’s Herald that the Scottish Government gets a copy of all the board papers before each board meeting. Is that correct?

Don McGillivray: Generally, yes.

Alex Neil: Generally. So you would have picked up that the letter was not in the board papers.

Don McGillivray: Yes, we would have been aware of that at the time.

Alex Neil: Did you mention it to Mr Foley or Mr Flanagan? The letter was clearly intended for every SPA board member. Did you draw to their attention the fact that it had not been circulated?

Don McGillivray: I think that we would have regarded that as a matter for the chair to decide on.

Alex Neil: You would have regarded that as a matter for the chair.

Don McGillivray: Yes.

Alex Neil: The SPA was under attack, as it has been—rightly—for the past three years for incompetence after incompetence, including, it would appear, trying to cover up forcing a board member to resign, and yet you did not think that it was important that the letter from the chief inspector had not been circulated to board members.

Don McGillivray: I am clear that the decision on which papers go to the SPA board is for the chair to make.

Alex Neil: Yes, the decision is for the chair. However, in your role as head of police in the Scottish Government, did you not draw attention to the fact that the letter had not been circulated? The letter clearly states that it should go to board members. You knew that it had not gone to board members, because you get the board papers but, despite the importance of the contents, you did not speak to Mr Flanagan or Mr Foley and say, “Would it not be wise to make sure this letter goes to board members?”

Don McGillivray: Again, I would not have seen that as the role of Government. At the time, I would have seen that as the role of the chair.

Alex Neil: Why, then, do you get the board papers?

Don McGillivray: We get the board papers primarily for information. It is simply to make the Government aware of issues that are coming up at the board.

Alex Neil: And you never comment to the board, the chair or the chief executive on the board papers before they go to the board.

Don McGillivray: We occasionally make comments on the papers, but that is usually on matters of factual accuracy more than anything else.

Alex Neil: Nobody in the civil service thought that, given the controversies, it might be a good thing for the chief inspector’s letter to go to board members. Nobody thought to mention it.

Don McGillivray: Again, I would see a difference in the functions of the Government and the SPA in that respect. I am pretty clear that, under the governance framework that exists between the Government and the SPA, it is for the chair and the chief executive to decide on what papers go to the board.

Alex Neil: It is very clear in the rules, however, that a letter such as the one from Mr Penman has to go to board members specifically. The chief inspector asked for it to go to board members, but nobody thought to make sure that the rules were kept to.

For more on Alex Neil’s questions to witnesses from the Scottish Police Authority and Scottish Government, see the full transcript: Official Report: Public Audit & Post Legislative Scrutiny Committee 20 April 2017

As the meeting went on, Public Audit Committee members also criticised SPA Boss Andrew Flanagan – over the treatment of former SPA Board member Moi Ali – who raised concerns about a lack of transparency at the Police Authority during a public meeting.

Flanagan then wrote to Moi Ali – expressing his “dismay” over her public objections to holding more meetings in private.

The SPA Boss commented in the letter that she would not be able to participate in key committees as a result.

Ms Ali complained of attempts to silence her – after she warned that public meetings held by the SPA would end up as a piece of theatre.

Ms Ali said such meetings would be a “theatrical playing-out of decisions” that had been reached in private meetings.

In late February of this year, Moi Ali resigned from her position on the board of the Scottish Police authority.

The Sunday Herald newspaper reported Moi Ali’s resignation, stating: “A Scottish Police Authority board member has resigned after believing she was punished for raising concerns about transparency at the watchdog. Moi Ali was informed by SPA chair Andrew Flanagan that it would not be fair for her to participate on the body’s committees after she objected to plans to hold meetings in private. Speaking exclusively to the Herald, she said: “I’m resigning because I don’t think that it is right for anybody to try to silence board members from expressing their views in public.”

As Thursday’s meeting went on, SPA Chief Andrew Flanagan was asked whether he had considered resigning, Mr Flanagan said he had not.

He added: “I think we are becoming more effective, I think it is important that we recognise that there is already a significant degree of openness through public board meetings that we have.”

The Scottish government has also been accused of political interference in the SPA – after it became known Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Government’s Justice Department received board papers including private documents before meetings took place or material was circulated to board members.

During the Committee meeting on Thursday, Mr Don McGillivray –  a civil servant based at the Police Division of the Justice Department – admitted that the government “occasionally” made comments about reports before publication.

Moi Ali and other former board members of the Scottish Police Authority have been invited to give evidence at a future date to be arranged by the Public Audit & Post Legislative Committee.

Moi Ali – Transparency comes first.

Moi Ali – well known for her previous role as Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) – is a well established champion of transparency in legal and justice related bodies from the judiciary down.

As JCR, Ms Ali gave backing to the widely supported proposal to create a register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary: Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

Moi Ali evidence Petition PE1458 Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary Scottish Parliament

 

Serving as Judicial Complaints Reviewer, Moi Ali appeared before the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament in a hard hitting evidence session during September of 2013.

Ms Ali gave a full account of her role as Judicial investigator to MSPs, and went on to describe oversight of Scottish judges as “Window Dressing”.

At the hearing, Ms Ali also backed proposals before the Scottish Parliament calling for the creation of a register of judicial interests.– reported here: Judicial Complaints Reviewer tells MSPs judges should register their interests like others in public life.

The full transcript of evidence from Moi Ali during her appointment as Judicial Complaints Reviewer can be found here: Evidence from Scotland’s Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali to Public Petitions Committee on Petition 1458 Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary,

The proposal to bring greater transparency to Scotland’s judiciary – Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary – first debated at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in January 2013 – calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests – containing information on judges’ backgrounds, figures relating to personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

A full debate on the proposal to require judges to declare their interests was held at the Scottish Parliament on 9 October 2014 – ending in a motion calling on the Scottish Government to create a register of judicial interests. The motion was overwhelmingly supported by MSPs from all political parties.

During her three year term as Judicial Complaints Reviewer, Moi Ali published three hard hitting reports on the lack of transparency and accountability in Scotland’s judiciary:

Judicial Complaints Reviewer Scotland Annual Report 2011-2012,

Judicial Complaints Reviewer Scotland Annual Report 2012-2013

Judicial Complaints Reviewer Scotland Annual Report 2013-2014

Further coverage of Moi Ali’s time as Judicial Complaints Reviewer along with reports of her support for transparency and accountability in the justice system can be found here: Moi Ali – Transparency and accountability for Scotland’s judiciary

 

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