Leaders: ‘Bullying’ case offers police reform opportunity

Police have to be careful with suspects right to legal representation. Picture: Ian Rutherford.

Police have to be careful with suspects right to legal representation. Picture: Ian Rutherford.

IF THE leadership of Scotland’s new single police force is unaware of changing public expectations of police behaviour, or believes the “old ways” can be preserved in perpetuity, the ruling by Lord Philip at the Criminal Court of Appeal last week provides a clear and important admonition.

Lord Philip ruled that Ross Paul, a teenager, had been “bullied” by officers into waiving his right to speak to a solicitor. His requests for a private consultation with a lawyer having been initially refused, officers were said to have used a “bullying and hostile approach” in the hope of “breaking his will” and extracting statements from him of an “incriminating nature”. This, Lord Philip ruled, fitted the description of improper questioning “tainted with an element of bullying”. The interview was considered inadmissible and Mr Paul won his appeal.

It might seem a small incident in itself, and one which, on the face of it, may impair the ability of the police to bring appropriate charges against a suspect. It may be seen by some as another example where the balance of required procedure is being tilted further in favour of suspects. And there will be concerns that this ruling could open the doors to a stream of appeals from offenders that they, too, were pressurised into waiving their right to see a solicitor or having that right delayed.

But many may find themselves taken into police custody in disputed circumstances where the right to early consultation with a solicitor is an integral and indeed indispensable part of police process. Suspects have every right to have professional advice.

Here video technology may be brought to bear which could assuage concerns of suspects while involving little by way of new paperwork for the police. The position at present is that police have to document whether a suspect has waived his right to speak to a lawyer before interview, but the process does not have to be recorded or filmed. Many police station interviews are recorded in notebook form, a method that depends on everything being written down but which is also unlikely to capture the manner in which questions are posed and the tenor of the discussion. Was it open and fair to the situation of the suspect? Or was it intimidating?

Video technology would not impose a heavy extra burden while providing a full and accurate record, not just of what was said but how it was said. This would address the central concern of intimidation to which Lord Philip referred.

This should provide an opportunity for Chief Constable Sir Stephen House to initiate a reform that would obviate further similar complaints of this sort. At the very least, it would address concerns raised while also sending a broader signal that Police Scotland is sensitive to public concerns and committed to improvement.


THIS week the world wide web (not to be confused with the internet) celebrates its 25th anniversary.

So ubiquitous has it become, and so integral to the work – and leisure – of hundreds of millions of people across the globe, it is hard to conceive how we were able to live without it.

When British computer scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee first submitted his idea, the response from his boss was: “Vague, but exciting.” Originally conceived to meet the demand for information sharing between university scientists, he went on to develop an invention that has revolutionised the lives of billions. In late 1993, there were no more than 500 known web servers, and the world wide web accounted for 1 per cent of internet traffic. Two decades later, there are an estimated 630 million websites online. Recent government statistics show that, last year, 36 million adults (73 per cent) in Britain accessed the internet every day, with 21m households (83 per cent) having internet access. From corporate presentations to children’s homework, the web has become the “first-stop” information store. Were it to be suddenly unavailable now, many firms would collapse, business would slow, universities would panic, newspapers would have large empty spaces and tens of millions would collapse into a nervous breakdown.

It has not just changed the way we work, but the way we view the world. But has the world itself changed? Back in 1989, when the web was born, Western political leaders were celebrating the end of the Cold War after 40 years. Given recent developments in the Ukraine, perhaps we should not be too quick to congratulate ourselves on the white heat of human progress.




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