Human rights lawyer to assess use of new emergency police powers

Respected human rights lawyer John Scott QC has been commissioned by Chief Constable Iain Livingstone to review Police Scotland’s use of “extraordinary” new emergency powers in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Apr 14, 2020
By Paul Jacques
John Scott

Mr Scott will chair a group to provide independent scrutiny of how officers and staff are applying new legislation during this “significant moment in history”.

David Crichton, vice-chair of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), said: “Police Scotland’s officers and staff are playing an essential role in keeping the public informed and safe during the Covid-19 emergency, putting themselves on the front line in the battle against this virus in doing so.

“They are applying unprecedented powers at this time and the judgments they make will come under growing pressure as the period of restriction continues.

“Policing in Scotland has long maintained the principle of policing by consent and the Authority has a responsibility to provide both support and oversight to protect that principle during this time. We therefore welcome the opportunity to do this in the public interest and in partnership with Police Scotland, John Scott QC and other stakeholders.”

Mr Livingstone said the vast majority of people were doing the right thing during the health emergency “because they know it is the best way to protect the NHS and save lives”.

He added: “Community policing has a vital role to play as we all make the changes and sacrifices needed to curtail the spread of coronavirus. With the support and cooperation of our fellow citizens, we will continue to focus on explaining the legal instructions, encouraging compliance and using enforcement only where necessary.

“Nevertheless, these are extraordinary powers, introduced quickly for a significant moment in our history and it is essential our use of them is thoroughly and independently scrutinised. I am grateful to Mr Scott for agreeing to provide his substantial experience and abilities, which can bring significant value to our thinking and operational practice.”

Mr Scott said: “These are exceptional and difficult times. In response, the Scottish government has introduced exceptional measures, including significant new powers for Police Scotland.

“Given the importance in Scotland of policing by consent, the chief constable recognises that the use of such exceptional powers should be the subject of full transparency.  I therefore welcome his invitation to chair a group to provide independent scrutiny of the exercise of those powers.

“I will engage closely with a range of key stakeholders to quickly set appropriate ‘terms of reference’ for this work. I will also establish a reference group. This review should contribute to maintaining public confidence in the work of Police Scotland.”

Mr Scott was commissioned after consultation with both the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice Humza Yousaf and Mr Crichton, currently acting as interim chair of the SPA. His group will report directly to the SPA.

Mr Yousaf said: “This is a very welcome, forward-thinking decision by the chief constable to ensure that the use of these important emergency powers by Scotland’s police officers are subject to independent review by a highly-regarded expert in human rights. This will complement the statutory scrutiny that the independent HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary for Scotland and the SPA are bringing to this issue.

“Police Scotland is playing a critical role in responding to public concerns and in ensuring social distancing in our communities in order to safeguard health, protect the NHS and save lives.

“I am very grateful for the commitment of Scotland’s police officers and staff, through day and night, and the chief constable’s very clear approach to engaging, explaining and encouraging people to observe social distancing and, where necessary, enforcing the law using the new powers Parliament has given them.”

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