Exclusive: Changes to improve Scots arrest procedures waylaid by Tory #GE17 manoeuvre


Scottish Police Federation anger over “huge impact” of delaying implementation of revisions to arrest and detention rules

A CONTROVERSY is brewing over the way Prime Minister Theresa May’s call for a snap General Election has interrupted significant changes to rules governing arrest, detention and stop and search in Scotland. 

The Criminal Justice Scotland Act 2016 would identify the rights of persons under arrest in legislation, and bring powers regarding stop and search, detention and arrest together under a single act of parliament.

It was due to come into effect on 20 July after the passage of a piece of enabling legislation through Westminster this month, required under the Scotland Act. However this was suspended by May’s calling of the election on 18 April, and by the rapid curtailing of parliamentary time.

The manoeuvre, in contravention of rules designating five year term parliaments, has been accused by opposition parties of being organised at extremely short notice in order to capitalise on high Tory poll ratings and to pre-empt investigations into alleged Tory election fraud. One Tory MP is still connected to an investigation.

“Importantly people’s rights when arrested are also identified clearly in the act – although this has existed in England for quite a long time this is the first time it has been brought together up here.” Dr Nick McKerrel

A spokesperson for the Scottish Police Federation said: “The Criminal Justice Scotland Act 2016 is probably the biggest change to policing in the last 25 years.  The Police Service of Scotland set up a project group to ensure that the service was ready for the introduction of the act and the work that has been done by this group has been significant and extensive. 

“The Scottish Police Federation find it extremely disappointing therefore that the date for introducing the act has been affected by the forthcoming General Election as this will undoubtedly have a huge impact on all of the planning and preparation that has been done to date.”

The plans would represent the biggest single overhaul to basic police procedures in a generation, but cannot be moved forward due to the political crisis at Westminster, and a constitutional arrangement that requires Westminster consent.

In March, critics of the Scottish Government complained that no legislation had been passed in the Scottish Parliament in the year since the Scottish elections.

CommonSpace understands that substantial resources were set aside to plan for the new legislation, in terms of IT preparedness and cross border co-operation. Around 20 public servants had been involved, at expense to the tax payer, in detailed plans for the changes.

Read more – Concerns over potential new stop-and-search powers

Some legal experts concerned with civil liberties in Scotland welcome the new legislation as a limited advance for arrest procedures in Scotland, as the legislation will identify rights for those under arrest.

Arrest, detention and stop and search have all proven controversial issues in Scotland in recent years, with concerns raised over the rate of deployment of stop and search for young men and children.

Law lecturer at Caledonian University Dr Nick McKerrel said: “The 2016 act is an advance in some ways for Scots Law.

“For the first time, all the police powers regarding arrest, detention and search are brought together in one act of parliament.  Previously these powers were scattered amongst different legislation and common law decisions of the Scottish Courts.  Now it should be clearer exactly what the police can and cannot do when using these powers – although the 2016 act does give officers some discretion to vary these it is more limited.

“Importantly people’s rights when arrested are also identified clearly in the act – although this has existed in England for quite a long time this is the first time it has been brought together up here.

However, McKerrel also said he felt the new legislation didn’t go far enough.

Read more – Manufacturing consent : Why Police Scotland must stop before it searches

“Unfortunately the act was not used to review the police’s fairly extensive powers to detain someone without charging them with an offence which was expanded significantly to potentially 24 hours by the Scottish Government in 2010,” he added.

The Scottish Government reviewed alternative measures to enact the legislation, but no way could be found without the enabling legislation.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “This new legislation will bring important changes to Scotland’s laws of criminal procedure covering arrest powers, custody and the rights of suspects in police custody.

“The calling of the UK general election means the UK Parliament will not be able to pass the enabling legislation needed to commence part 1 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016 on 20 July, as originally planned. We are working with the Scotland Office on a revised timetable.”

CommonSpace contacted the Scotland Office for comment on this story, but they had not responded by time of publication.

Picture courtesy of Victor

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