Scottish police reform must include human rights
The Scottish Government and Parliament should seize the historic opportunity in reforming police services in Scotland to embed human rights principles into the new structures from their inception.
The call comes in a submission from the Scottish Human Rights Commission to the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee consultation on the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Bill, which would establish a single police force across Scotland.
The Commission calls for human rights to be explicitly included in the policing principles of the new Scottish Police Service and for a newly created Scottish Police Authority to issue a Code of Ethics laying down standards of conduct for police officers rooted in human rights obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights. The Scottish Police Authority should have the independence to set its own strategic policing priorities away from the determination of Ministers and would act as a monitor of the performance of the Police Services in complying with the Human Rights Act.
The Bill in its current form does not include any explicit reference to human rights principles despite the distinct human rights obligations for the police under the Human Rights Act.
Professor Alan Miller, Chair of the Commission, said: “Reforming the police in Scotland into a single force and putting new accountability structures into place is a unique opportunity to give human rights its proper place in Scottish policing from the very beginning.
“Other jurisdictions, notably Northern Ireland, have seen substantial benefits by adopting a human rights based approach to policing.
“It is regrettable that as it currently stands the Bill does not include any references to human rights. Human rights underpin the legal framework within which police offers - as well as the rest of us - must operate. The protection of the human rights of individuals and the community - to life, security and property - is also the primary purpose of policing. Police officers themselves also have human rights which need to be understood by all. The Commission hopes therefore that the Scottish Government will give much more consideration to this omission as the Bill progresses.
The Commission makes six recommendations to the Justice Committee, including:
A commitment to upholding human rights should be explicitly included in the policing principles of the Scottish Police Service.
A new police oath should contain an explicit commitment to upholding and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The Bill should include a provision requiring the Scottish Police Authority to issue a code of ethics for the Police Service laying down standards of conduct and practice for police officers based on human rights principles and European Convention of Human Rights obligations.
The Scottish Police Authority should have the independence to set its own strategic policing priorities.
The Bill should include a provision requiring the Scottish Police Authority to monitor the performance of the Police Services in complying with the Human Rights Act.
The Police Investigations and Review Commissioner should be given adequate investigating powers of disclosure and attendance of witnesses.
Other parts of the UK have already moved to improve their policing accountability arrangements and put in place strong structures informed by a human rights based approach. For example, in England the Independent Police Complaints Commission monitors cases against human rights best practice standards. In Northern Ireland the Policing Board is required by law to monitor the performance of the police against the Human Rights Act, through a Code of Ethics and a specific Human Rights Monitoring Framework. Scotland can now itself take this historic opportunity to move forward, recognise the new framework of the Human Rights Act, and modernise its own arrangements in a way which will bring clear benefits to both the public and the police service.