After nine years, the Court of Session has confirmed what has long been apparent to those applying common sense to the issue of police complaints: it is not just for officers of a police force to investigate complaints agains members of the same force.
By allowing fellow Strathclyde Police officers to investigate a complaint of assault against their colleagues in 2004, Strathclyde Police breached the rights of the complainant Kevin Ruddy.
The case could have significant ramifications, especially in a context where around 800 complaints of assault are made against officers in Scotland every year, out of 4000 compaints in total.
Ahead of the introduction of a single police force, The Herald warned that trust would be vital if Police Scotland was to retain the confidence of communities. Being able to assure the public that complaints are investigated fairly and impartially is a key aspect of that trust.
It appears from this ruling that anything which prevents a proper independent investigation taking place risks putting the Government in breach of article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The provision, which bars inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, requires that a proper independent investigation needs to be available.
The body introduced to provide such independent oversight of complaints in April this year, the office of the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner, is designed to avoid such a breach. However aspects of initial complaints are still handled by police officers, which leads some lawyers to warn that the new set up may not yet be ECHR compliant.
The Court of Session pointed out that structural independence cannot be guaranteed if a member of the same police force, ultimately answerable to the same chief constable, is involved in investigating complaints.
Mr Ruddy's claim for £10,000 in damages relating to the alleged assault will now be re-addressed. There are likely to be dozens of similar claims for damages made as a result of this ruling.
Other aspects of the new system remain to be tested. With the majority of those appointed to senior roles at the PIRC being former police officers, further challenges to its decisions may yet be made.
Police Scotland says it is confident that the current structures are robsust and do not need to be reviewed.
The Scottish Police Authority says it is confident that the correct checks and balances are in place.
It is reassuring that both are content, but the ultimate confidence has to come from those they serve.
The public wants to know that there is a system of redress which can fairly investigate serious complaints about the police, but which is also robust enough to resist spurious human rights claims. If not, Police Scotland could face its own bad days in court.
We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules, which are available here.
Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.