MacAskill threatened with legal action over police chief veto plan

KENNY MacAskill, the Holyrood Justice Secretary, has been threatened with legal action by furious councillors over a move to give ministers new "veto" powers in the appointment of chief constables.

Mr MacAskill has angered Scotland's eight police authorities by giving them just two weeks to respond to a Scottish Executive plan to give Paddy Tomkins, HM chief inspector of constabulary (HMCIC), a more formal role in appointing senior officers.

New guidelines from the Executive directorate general for justice and communities say that Mr Tomkins should report to ministers once police authorities, made up only of councillors, have chosen a new chief constable.

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According to the Executive document, passed to The Scotsman, ministers will then look at Mr Tomkins's report to see if "evidence has been properly recorded and weighed" and whether his advice to the boards has been followed. If it has not, ministers will have the power to reject the selected candidate - a power that local authorities say undermines the powers in law of councillors to choose the police chief best suited to their area.

A strongly worded letter to Mr MacAskill from Paul Rooney, the convener of the Scottish Police Authorities Conveners Forum and the convener of the Strathclyde police board, accuses the Executive of "outrageous" behaviour in setting the two-week consultation deadline.

In the letter, which has been seen by The Scotsman, Mr Rooney writes: "Broadly, what is proposed under the guise of greater ministerial involvement in the process is to give HMCIC a significantly higher role in the process to an extent that the police authorities and elected members of the authorities are made subservient to his oversight. This gives this officer a role which he does not have in statute and is both insulting and demeaning to those elected members who do have a statutory duty to perform in the appointment of senior officers."

It then states Mr Rooney has advice that what is proposed is ultra vires - outside the law - and says that, if insisted on, "can only involve police authorities and Scottish ministers in unnecessary litigation".

Last night, Mr Rooney said: "I do not wish to comment on this at this time."

A Scottish Executive spokeswoman said the role of the HMCIC was "to act as the senior government adviser on policing matters and to assist boards in making their selection". She added:

"New guidelines are being revised by the police advisory board for Scotland to ensure the appointment process is open, fair, trans-parent and based on merit. There will be no changes to statute which requires appointments to be made by police boards following consultation with, and subject to approval of, Scottish ministers."

One well-informed Executive source said: "Ministers have a legal responsibility to ensure important jobs are filled properly.

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There has to be a way to make sure selections are made professionally and not on the basis about questions on Masonic lodges or Celtic season ticket-holders or being a friend of a council leader."


AN EXTRAORDINARY row has broken out between Strathclyde Police board and Scotland's most senior police officer over the appointment of a new chief constable for Strathclyde.

Paddy Tomkins, Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary for Scotland, suggested that some councillors who would be responsible for selecting a replacement for Sir Willie Rae as the Chief Constable of Scotland's largest force have been privately discussing who should get the 161,000-a-year job.

But his letter to Mike Blair, the clerk to the Strathclyde board, on 7 August

provoked a furious response from Mr Blair, who wrote back on 9 August to say that the tenor of Mr Tompkins's letter had raised the suggestion that the selection process was already compromised.

In the second in a series of letters, which has been seen by The Scotsman,

Mr Blair added: "I cannot assess what action or range of actions I now require to put in hand. It may be nothing or it may require the area procurator-fiscal to consider an allegation of corrupt practice."

This letter brought a swift climb-down by Mr Tompkins, who replied on 10 August that if he had "the quality and detail or evidence" he would have written in "quite different terms".

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