I have been meaning to visit the Scottish scheme for some time. Brian McFadyen, the National Manager for the Independent Custody Visiting at the Scottish Police Authority, is one of ICVA’s directors. I have very much enjoyed working with Brian, as he is an engaged and influential director. Other members of Team Scotland – Lynne, Leigh and Alison are impressive, dedicated and knowledgeable as well as proactive and generally lovely to work with. They’d given me an open invitation to visit and I was long overdue.

Policing is, by and large, a devolved power so there are interesting differences between Scotland and the rest of the UK. These seem ever more salient as the UK has debated changes to the European Convention of Human Rights, Brexit is on the horizon and (dare I say it), The Daily Mail underlined the differences between the Westminster and Scottish Parliaments with their horrendous ‘Legsit’ headline. It seemed like a good time to strengthen relationships so I boarded a plane to Glasgow earlier this month.

I was keen to explore the similarities and differences between the Scottish schemes and the remainder of the UK to see what we could learn from one another and to understand how ICVA could support the scheme. As ever, I asked to spend some time in custody and Police Scotland to see what more I could learn there.

I arrived in Scotland to a rather lovely, home made and bile green sign welcoming me to Glasgow. The scene was complete with locals dressed as ‘See You Jimmy’ waiting behind Brian. I am assured that this is a rare event, but it made for a good photo opportunity. We went right into the Police Authority offices and I proceeded to grill Brian and Lynne for as much information as I could in an afternoon.

Governance

The obvious and immediate difference between Scotland and England and Wales is the governance of the scheme. ICVs in England and Wales send their reports to their PCC’s office (via their scheme manager) and the PCC can directly hold the Chief Constable to account.

In contrast, Scotland does not have a Police and Crime Commissioner; Scotland pursued another route of reform. Eight Scottish constabularies merged to become Police Scotland in April 2013. The Scottish Police Authority (SPA) came into being at the same time and brought a number of separate ICV schemes, run by local authorities, into a single scheme under the Authority. Team Scotland came into their roles after the Authority was established and, as such, I find that they have thought deeply about their scheme with fresh eyes and an ambition to succeed.

The Authority comprises 12 members (legislation allows up to 14) who are responsible for maintaining policing, promoting policing principles and continuous improvement of policing. They also hold the Chief Constable to account. As with PCCs, the ICV scheme is a statutory duty for the Authority. The scheme reports to the Authority twice a year with the Authority’s Chief Executive raising any issues with the Chief Constable in the meantime.

As you would expect, Scotland also has a different range of stakeholders to work with. HMICS inspect the constabulary and can and will inspect the Authority. In contrast to England and Wales, the ICV scheme will be inspected as part of this process, bringing external scrutiny and, potentially, recommendations.

The Police Independent Review Commissioner performs a similar role to the The Independent Police Complaints Commission, investigating deaths and serious incidents, including in custody.

The Scottish Parliament is a further key stakeholder and the Justice Committee has summoned the National Manager to give evidence on the scheme. A great way to raise the profile and impact of the scheme and something that is not in place south of the border.

The Scottish scheme is embedded in a wide range of governance – from the staff in the Authority to the Scottish Parliament. There are clear advantages to this system – it increases the profile of the scheme and the importance of humane treatment in custody. This, in turn, increases buy-in to the scheme as so many stakeholders are engaged in its work. Moreover, by being open to inspection, HMICS can make recommendations to improve the scheme; although with just one scheme in Scotland, it will be hard to make comparisons that can push continuous improvement. On the other hand, whilst a single PCC may have considerably less capacity to work with their schemes, they have considerable direct influence when a problem occurs. Detention staff in England have told me that they will point out problems and snags to ICVs as they know that the scheme manager will raise them directly to senior custody staff. Furthermore, if the problem is not resolved, they know that it will be escalated straight to the PCC and into the ear of the Chief Constable. This is a powerful single source of accountability, which is more dispersed in the Scottish system.

Key themes

In talking to Brian and Lynne, two key differences struck me. I have just produced a training module on children in custody for England and Wales, based on the forthcoming Concordat, which seeks to reduce the amount of time children spend in custody. This just did not seem to be an issue in Scotland. Although it was not unheard of, Brian and Lynne reported that it certainly isn’t common for children to be held in custody in Scotland. Scotland appear to have achieved what England is aspiring to.

There were more nuanced differences when considering vulnerability of detainees. ICVA looks at a range of vulnerabilities, but mental health definitely takes the lion share of my time. Scotland reported low numbers of people detained in custody as a place of safety simply because of their mental health (legislation and other reforms are pushing England and Wales in the same direction). Their focus is vulnerability in the whole, which may include substance abuse or domestic abuse as well as mental health. You can read more about this in Police Scotland’s ten-year strategy for Policing in Scotland, Policing 2026.

Sadly, a theme that connects Scotland to England and Wales is concerns over staffing. ICVs should be admitted into custody at any point in the day or night and a custody officer will escort them on their visits. We have had a number of reports of insufficient staff in place to enable these visits and this was a problem for Scotland. This is a worry. If there are insufficient staff in place to facilitate a visit, ICVs become less effective and problems can creep in unnoticed. Furthermore, it raises questions on whether custody is working above capacity. Independent monitoring is a core function of detention in the UK and, if it’s not happening, custody is not doing all that it should.

Legislation

Finally, before we move onto the visit, Scotland has major change on the horizon. The The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016 will create huge changes to custody in Scotland. Whilst the logistics and details are being thrashed out, it is clear that there will be a presumption of liberty that has not previously existed. This is similar to PACE Code G which has been in place since 2012 in England and Wales and places an emphasis on alternatives to arrest and custody through, for example, voluntary interviews. The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016 will instigate culture change and may well see the same drops in the number of people coming through custody that England and Wales have seen. I also noticed a litany of differences in jargon – the one that really got me was the near equivalent of bail. This will be called ‘interim liberation’ in Scotland. As 28 day pre-charge bail comes into force in England and Wales, I am amused by this term. I have been immersed in discussions of safeguards intended to prevent suspects being under threat of action for long periods. The term ‘interim liberation’ appears, to me, to fly in the face of that intention, suggesting that any freedom will be short lived. A nuanced difference, but the symbolism felt important to me.

Visiting custody

I spent my second day in Scotland visiting police custody. The Scottish offices are absolutely beautiful and the hospitable team gave me a short tour of Glasgow, but this custody suite, close to the Mackintosh Building, was the attraction that I had really come to see. I was able to visit both their TACT (for those arrested under terrorism legislation) and regular custody.

TACT

I cannot, for obvious reasons, discuss much of what occurs in TACT detention. However, there are a few points of interest to report. Firstly, I was hugely impressed by the knowledge and thought that Police Scotland displayed. Our contact clearly understood her suite, processes and the local needs. She demonstrated that she took national learning and applied it in Scotland. It was a joy to see someone who clearly took such pride in her work. I was also pleased and proud to hear of how well she regarded the scheme and ICVs.

A major challenge for many TACT facilities is that they are not regularly used, but need to be ready to jump into action at all times. TACT processes are different to other custody processes and, in order to maintain the required capacity and capability, Police Scotland train their staff regularly.  The training uses role-play to create likely scenarios in detention. SPA’s ICVs are a welcome part of this training and they will conduct a dummy visit as part of it. A great idea to keep the ICVs trained and ready to go.

The ICV scheme has to balance having sufficient qualified ICVs to conduct TACT visits when arrests occur, with the costs of doing so. Good practice suggests that new pairs of visitors should attend on each day of detention (up to 14 days). It’s not cheap to vet and train TACT ICVs. The vetting is intrusive for ICVs, who may find that they are only called upon to visit once a year. TACT ICVs are really quite special; you can read more about visiting TACT detention here.

I am in a privileged position in that I am able to visit custody suites across the UK and get a good sense of how they differ. In contrast, ICVs will only visit their local TACT suite and cannot compare their facilities to others. This is a limiting factor, but Scotland made up for this with a clear focus on continuous learning. Staff take findings from other suites and implement them locally and the scheme runs a hot debrief each time TACT is activated. This was impressive and I truly felt that the staff were committed to ensuring that this sensitive part of custody performed as well as possible.

Custody

Regular custody resembled other suites that I had visited. I found the ubiquitous ambient ready meals, CCTV and very similar looking cells.

I did notice two interesting differences – the suite still had cells where continuous observations could be conducted via a transparent wall between the cell and the observation area. These cells could be used if CCTV cells were full (a rare event in England, but this does happen in Glasgow). A further difference was that beds were very close to the ground – about an inch or two off – in contrast to many ‘seat level’ beds that I had seen in England. Beyond this, there was little to distinguish Glasgow cells from English cells. I always enjoy spending time in custody, and did again this time, happy to spend time in the areas that our volunteers monitor.

Spitguards

I had one further topic that I wished to explore with my Scottish colleagues. I spend a fair amount of time talking to stakeholders about spitguards / spithoods. A variety of head gear can be used to cover the mouth or someone who is spitting or threatening to spit. These are a topic of hot debate in England and Wales who, unlike Scotland, do not have uniform rules on their use or and do not have standard kit. Constabularies across England and Wales are divided on their use with some Chief Constables issuing them, others trialling them and some not using them at all. Equally, the public and stakeholders are split, often polarized, on the issue.

Police Scotland were kind enough to give me a spitguard (Scotland has a single type of spitguard) to take away to show to my colleagues in the NPM and IPCC. They were also very keen to explain their approach. They told me that Police Scotland has strong governance in place to record and monitor their use. Spitguards are also less likely to be used across custody.  The Inspector who gave us our tour said that she may occasionally see spitguards when attempting to book in new detainees, but their use was limited in custody as detainees were moved to cells and custody staff had guards to place on their own faces if they felt at risk of being spat at.

Conclusions

This has turned out to be quite an epic blog. This reflects the amount of ground (figuratively and literally) that we covered in the visit. It was hugely informative and enjoyable.

It also reflects the complexity of how policing is governed across the UK. I welcome this diversity. We can take a lot of learning from our shared experiences. I contemplated this on my flight home (which, sadly, did not have anyone waiting to chauffer me home from Heathrow) there is a lot to consider and act upon.

Scotland has managed to keep children largely out of custody – I wondered how Scotland achieves this when so many are detained in England and Wales? I also pondered TACT, questioning how our schemes could learn from each other when visitors will only ever see one facility. I have since started to plan and lobby for a TACT conference, hoping to set one up this year.

Scotland’s scheme is impressive and has uniform processes and rules across the country. Moreover, the relatively new team has thought through their policies and practices as the new single scheme came into being. Schemes in England and Wales lack this uniformity and have not had the same imperative to question established ways of working. ICVA has the position and responsibility to promote good practice across the UK and we can learn from the Scottish experience. With that thought, I am off to read through the ICV scheme handbook that Brian and Lynne kindly gave to me and see what we can use!

Thank you Brian, Lynne, Leigh and Team Scotland.