CONFUSION at the heart of the legislation drawn up to create Scotland’s national police force has prompted both the new chief constable and the new police authority chairman to seek additional legal advice at the public’s expense, it emerged yesterday.
Stephen House, Scotland’s most senior police officer, warned Holyrood’s justice committee that he believed there was a “gobsmacking major problem with the legislation”.
Among areas of concern are human resources and finance workers, with unresolved questions over who is responsible for hundreds of support staff.
Yesterday, Mr House and Vic Emery, the chairman of the Scottish Police Authority, both told MSPs that they had sought legal advice to clarify issues.
Christine Grahame, committee convener, gave the men one week to disclose what legal advice they received.
Mr Emery, whose authority will hold the national force to account, said information sought should be viewed “holistically”, alongside legal advice given to the Scottish Government, before the bill is published. However, the Scottish Government has refused to disclose its legal advice, saying it does not reveal when it has sought legal opinion.
Mr House and Mr Emery told the committee that the budget and employment of civilian staff would be a matter for the authority, while operational direction of those workers would fall to the chief constable.
However, Mr House told the committee this was not clear.
“I did get legal advice after a conversation with the lead lawyer [at Strathclyde Police], who alerted me to concerns about the Act,” he said.
“He did not believe it allowed the authority to delegate to me control over support staff, which is clearly a gobsmacking major problem with the legislation.”
Mr Emery also sought guidance on the bill. “The act is prescriptive in some areas, permissive in others,” he said. “I sanctioned my own legal advice.
“It is legally privileged. I’m happy to provide it but on a holistic basis. I would not want the legal advice I got taken out of context.”
Police Scotland comes into force in April next year, taking over responsibility from eight regional forces.
David O’Connor, president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, added: “The argument that the authority can deliver services such as human resources and finance is dangerous and unsustainable.
“There needs to be a decision made and clarity brought to this matter by the Scottish Parliament, as it is in the interest of policing and also the wider public interest.”
The Scottish Government insisted the legislation creating a single force was clear. A spokeswoman said: “All staff will transfer to the Scottish Police Authority, and all police staff will be under the direction and control of the chief constable of the Police Service of Scotland.”