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Keeping Scotland Safe and Strong: A Consultation on Reforming Police and Fire and Rescue Services in Scotland

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PART A - POLICE
1. A MODERN PURPOSE FOR POLICING

Introduction

1.1.This section sets out our intention to express a modern purpose for policing in 21st century Scotland. The purpose will reflect the broad role which the police play in serving communities across Scotland; in delivering a wide range of outcomes through the many partnerships that policing supports; and will help to establish the culture and ethos of the service, informing strategic planning and priority setting nationally and locally.

Current Arrangements

1.2.There is currently no formally defined purpose for policing in Scotland. Section 17 of the Police (Scotland) Act 1967, which sets out some of the duties of a police constable, is widely seen as important: it sets out the duties of a constable as being to "to guard, patrol and watch so as - (i) to prevent the commission of offences, (ii) to preserve order, and (iii) to protect life and property." It goes on to set out a wider list of functions of constables (see Annex D for a full extract of section 17) and recognises that the functions of constables go far beyond section 17 to include a range of both statutory and common law powers and duties. Section 17(1) (a), in particular - "to guard, patrol and watch" - is widely remembered and quoted as being indicative of the purpose of policing in Scotland.

1.3.These statutory duties, and the flexible way in which they have been interpreted, have served policing well and are still central to much police activity. We do not propose to change them fundamentally, but to update the way in which they are expressed. It is clear that the role of the police and the nature of the issues and problems they deal with, and how they deal with them, has changed significantly since 1967. Today's police officers do much more than 'guard, patrol and watch'. They work hand-in-hand with a range of community planning partners to deliver shared outcomes across justice, education, health and other sectors, building relationships with communities and intervening early to prevent people getting involved in crime by addressing its root causes and to increase the well-being of communities.

Scottish Government Proposals

1.4.We propose to establish a modern purpose for policing in 21st century Scotland. Such a purpose will be a declaration of the outcomes policing is seeking to achieve and will include some broad strategic principles for delivering them. Its aim, in line with the Christie Commission, will be to encourage policing to focus on improving the safety and well-being of individuals, families and communities by prioritising preventative action to address the causes of crime, disorder and danger and contribute to an array of other positive outcomes in areas such as health and education. The supporting principles will encourage efficiency and effectiveness, preventative action, partnership with community planning partners and others, and community engagement.

1.5.In many ways, a modern purpose will reaffirm the way most of Scotland's communities are already policed but will also signal a strengthened resolve to improve people's lives by preventing harm from happening in the first place.

1.6.There are a range of ways in which a new modern purpose for policing could be delivered: through legislation, through a statutory framework or through national guidance. A proposed modern purpose of policing is provided below as a starting point and we would welcome views on this:

PURPOSE OF POLICING

The purpose of policing is to improve the safety and well-being of individuals, families and communities in Scotland.

1.7.The purpose would shape the delivery of policing in Scotland and help to establish the culture and ethos of the police service and how it works with others. In that respect, we expect that Scottish Ministers; the Scottish Police Authority; and the Chief Constable, chief officers, and local commanders of the Scottish police service, will have regard to the policing purpose when setting strategic plans and priorities.

Question 1: What are your views on how we might strengthen the proposed purpose? Should the purpose be set out in national guidance, or in some other way.

FUNCTIONS AND OATH

Introduction

1.8.In this section we propose that the duties set out in the Police (Scotland) Act 1967 will be retained in the reform legislation, but that we will modernise the terminology used to express them. We also propose to update the wording of the oath which officers take on appointment to the Office of Constable.

Current arrangements

Office of Constable

1.9.Every officer in Scotland is a 'Constable', irrespective of rank. It is from the Office of Constable that each officer derives their legal powers. On appointment, each officer makes a declaration to "faithfully discharge the duties of the Office of Constable". The Office of Constable means a police officer has the additional legal powers of arrest and control of the public given through a sworn oath and warrant. Each sworn constable is an independent legal official; they are not agents of the police force, police authority or government, though they are subject to the direction and control of the chief constable. The execution of their powers, free from political interference, is the cornerstone of the criminal justice system in this country.

1.10. Some of the core functions of police constables are set out in section 17 of the Police (Scotland) Act 1967. They include: to guard, patrol and watch so as - (i) to prevent the commission of offences, (ii) to preserve order, and (iii) to protect life and property. Police officers also have a range of other statutory and common law powers and duties.

Oath

1.11. The oath made by officers on appointment has remained unchanged since 1892. It has stood the test of time well but in recognition of the changing role of both the police service and individual officers we would welcome views on whether we should take this opportunity to amend the oath to reflect those changes.

1.12. The wording of the current oath is:

"I hereby do solemnly and sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of constable".

Scottish Government Proposals

Duties on holders of the Office of Constable

1.13. We will retain all of the duties placed on police constables under the 1967 Act in the reform legislation, but we will restate and reframe them using more modern language.

Oath

1.14. We propose to update the wording of the oath. A possible new wording might be:

"I sincerely declare and affirm that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of constable with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, according to law."

Question 2: What are your views on our plans to retain existing functions in a modern form and on our proposals to modernise the oath?