Scotland's prosecution service failing to record protected characteristics such as race in criminal allegations against the police “risks failing to notice” when this may be a factor in an incident, a watchdog has said.

In a report following an inspection of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service’s (COPFS) management of criminal allegations against the police, Laura Paton, HM Chief Inspector of Prosecution in Scotland, urged the prosecution service to be more transparent and made 18 recommendations for action. These include publishing data on its handling of allegations and working towards splitting this by race and other characteristics.

The inspection is the first of its kind since COPFS established a national unit – the Criminal Allegations Against the Police Division (CAAP-D) – for the handling of on-duty criminal allegations against the police. Inspectors reviewed 80 cases.

The report stated: “In the cases we reviewed, there appeared to be no consideration by either the reporting agency or CAAP-D of whether race (or any other protected characteristic) was a factor in the incident complained about.

“This is surprising, particularly in light of the recent focus on race and policing across the world.

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“The Crown appears to treat all cases the same, regardless of the race of the complainer or subject officer.

“While some might consider this to be a fair or ‘colour-blind’ approach, it risks failing to notice when race may actually be a factor in an incident.” Of the cases reviewed, 65 led to a decision not to prosecute and 15 the opposite. The majority, 54, were for assault, followed by breach of the peace (six) and road traffic offences (five). The quality of the decision-making was “good” and the report states “in no case did we disagree with the decision based on the evidence available”.

The department has reported meeting a 12-week target for decisionmaking on this type of prosecution for years, but inspectors found it was “freezing” its 12-week target when requesting new information and then resetting to zero. Inspectors found the average time taken to prosecute was 18 weeks and and one case reported to have hit the target took nearly 74 weeks.

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The report states: “This masked the reality of what was happening in the unit, undermined the purpose of performance management and misled senior managers, law officers, stakeholders and the public as to how quickly decisions in criminal complaints against the police were made.” Since April 1 this year, the service stopped freezing targets.

Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain QC welcomed the report, adding: “The Crown is committed to the fair and effective investigation of reports of criminal allegations against the police and to making decision on prosecutions in a timely manner.

“Prosecutors rely on the trust of victims and witnesses to carry out this role, and we will review our processes around communicating decisions to them to ensure that trust is maintained.

“COPFS will carefully consider all the recommendations in the report and makes changes, where appropriate, to implement them.”