Police accountability in Scotland

Everybody, everywhere in this world no matter what their duties purpose or anything else is accountable to someone or something, this includes the police. The police, the very mention of that word, phrase or whatever context it appears in brings about many feelings in society past, present and future. For many the police are the protectors of everything that is sacred, they keep us safe. But on the other side and perhaps more realistic they are seen as very near useless as many who are in contact with the police are often disillusioned about there particular plight.

Of all the various opinions that are evident it is more than likely the case that the majority of people do not know how far police accountability actually stretches. Themes such as legal, democratic, local, service and community accountability are the main sections of the police and there accountability. In this essay a detailed look at the police and their functions and methods, i. e. patrolling along with an analysis of all their duties will help to answer the question set out along with an analysis of the tripartite system which is where the focus of police accountability refers to..

Things such as community policing, crime busting, public thoughts as well as the police enforcement of the law, who controls the police and policing in general will all help to further the analysis of the police and their subsequent accountability. After all the information is in place a conclusion based on it will attempt to show what the police actually do. A key principle of policing in Britain is policing by consent. " traditional British policing is relatively low on numbers, low on power and high on accountability…

it is undertaken with public consent which does not mean acquiescence but a broad tolerance indicating a satisfaction with helping and enforcement roles of policing". (JCC (1990) Operation Policing Review) With policing by consent the two most obvious points that can be drawn from an in depth look at it are whose consent and how is that consent obtained, in assessing this it is clear that there are mechanisms required for a level of accountability.

There are several key issues of accountability, which arise in police work. One of those issues deals with Legal accountability and the need for effective redress for the public against illegalities that may be committed by individual officers in the course of their duties. Also public accountability given the large variety of types of crime and limited police resources there is a need to ensure that police focus on those forms of crime which most impinge on the public.

Another mechanism that relates to accountability is that dealing with the economical and financial sections of this area, which basically entails, the need for mechanisms to ensure that public investment in policing resources is used in the most cost-effective way. The mechanisms for accountability are related to the traditional tripartite structure which is based on three elements, central government, local government and the chief constable and the most recent partnership being the community.

In Scotland responsibility for policing lies with the Scottish ministers. Going back to the fact that policing is by consent it is clear that as things change in areas such as society a sort of re evaluation of this concept is needed. Perhaps the most responsiblility can be seen as to lay on the shoulders of the chief constable who is responsible for the efficient administration and management of police operations.

Local government which can be seen as the police authority which is composed of representatives of elected local authorities (City and County Councils) and Magistrates, is responsible for the maintenance of an 'efficient' police force and provides substantial funding. The Police Authority appoints the Chief Constable (with Home Office approval). The Chief Constable makes an annual report to the Police Authority. But the authority cannot direct the Chief Constable in any matters related to the operational aspects of policing.

The Home Office, one of the departments of central government concerned with the criminal justice system is involved in the appointment of Chief Constables (and any moves to sack them). The Home Office monitors the efficiency of police forces throughout the country through HMIC (Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary). The Home Office now provides 75 percent of the funding for police forces. The police journal volume 75 states that the police should be controlled by no one party and should only be answerable to the law, acting on behalf of the community rather than the government.

Central government has formal controls over force amalgamations, collaboration between forces as well as chief officer appointments and establishing the numbers and force establishments whilst providing common services. It can also make regulations on things such as promotion criteria, retirement, discipline and pay and allowances. While doing all of this it should be in constant consultation with the police advisory board and police negotiating board both of which are for Scotland.

Another form of police accountability is in relation to crime control, the questions that arise out of this are, is the police acting in accordance with the publics priorities and are the police using their resources properly and effectively.


Holdaway, S, (1979), The British Police, Edward Arnold (publishers) Ltd

Findlay, J, (2000), All manner of people (the history of the justices of the peace in Scotland), The Saltire Society 

Rawlings, P, (2002), Policing a short history, Willan Publishing