THE row over secrecy in policing has deepened after a Government-funded scrutiny body confirmed that it does not minute its meetings.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS), which criticised another watchdog over a lack of transparency, does “not consider it necessary” to make a formal record of its monthly sessions.

The SNP Government has been on the back foot for weeks after the Sunday Herald revealed that Justice Secretary Michael Matheson blocked Police Scotland Chief Constable Phil Gormley from returning to work.

Matheson’s intervention led to a U-turn by the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), which had initially given the green light to Gormley to come back. The absentee chief constable has been on leave for months since being accused of bullying.

The row took on a new dimension when it emerged that the secret meeting between Matheson and Andrew Flanagan, the then chair of the SPA, had not been minuted.

Critics believe the decision is part of a wider Government trend of not making a note of what participants say at ministerial meetings.

HMICS, led by Derek Penman, was set up to provide “independent scrutiny” of the SPA and Police Scotland and to look into the “state, effectiveness and efficiency” of the two bodies.

The body is fully funded by the Government, according to its annual report, and is based on the same floor as the Justice Secretary’s office and the police division in St Andrew’s House.

The Government also has the power to “direct” the inspectorate to carry out reviews and did so in the case of undercover policing.

In recent years, Penman was a high-profile critic of the SPA’s decision to hold committee meetings in private.

“This approach seems at odds with your key principle of transparency and your commitment that the Authority should be open and transparent and operate to the highest standards of public sector administration and management,” he wrote.

He also criticised the SPA plan to keep some board papers private: “This has the potential to further weaken scrutiny and reduce transparency in board proceedings, especially as members will be relying upon the information contained within these papers to inform their views and make recommendations to the full board.”

However, despite playing a prominent role in forcing a rethink on openness by the SPA, the HMICS commitment to transparency is also being questioned.

The scrutiny body told Labour MSP Neil Findlay’s office: “HMICS does not minute meetings, and therefore we cannot provide any documents.”

A spokesperson for HMICS elaborated: “Our internal monthly staff meetings are used to review progress against our scrutiny plan, resourcing and budget. We do not consider it necessary to produce formal minutes for these meetings, although staff are tasked with relevant actions as required.

“We believe this is an efficient and effective way to operate an organisation with only 10 core staff, supplemented by a small number of associate inspectors and secondees.”

Carole Ewart, Convener of the Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland, a group that has recently launched the Get It Minuted campaign, said: "I cannot understand why HMICS thinks it is okay not to minute meetings when its service is paid for by the public and therefore should be open, accessible and accountable in its operations. Who took the decision not to minute? I would consider any public service, or a service of a public nature, would have high standards in governance which requires minute taking.”

Scottish Labour Shadow Justice Secretary Daniel Johnson said: “There are already serious concerns around the accountability at the top of the justice system, and HMICS sharing the same floor of office space as the Justice Secretary will not calm those worries.

“The Scottish Parliament unanimously supported a Labour amendment this week to call on the Scottish Government to minute all of its ministerial meetings. The SNP Government must listen to the will of parliament and ensure all meetings are minuted as a matter of urgency."

Tory MSP Liam Kerr said: "To be truly transparent, public bodies must have robust accountability procedures and part of that is that minutes must be taken. An independent body intended to scrutinise the workings of other official bodies has even higher standards to adhere to.

"The public will rightly question the impartiality or decision making processes of an organisation which cannot prove how it goes about its business."