Police Scotland ''squander'' thousands on legal fees

28 December 2017, 06:58 | Updated: 28 December 2017, 07:00

Police Scotland

Police Scotland has spent tens of thousands of pounds in the last three years on legal costs challenging Freedom of Information requests.

The force has racked up £77,493 in legal fees taking on Scotland's Information Commissioner since 2015/16, according to figures obtained by the Scottish Conservatives.

The costs include a £63,000 bill for challenging the commissioner on the release of details involving police informants, known as covert human intelligence sources.

Chief Constable Phil Gormley took an appeal against the commissioner's decision, ordering the release of the information, to the Court of Session but lost and the force had to cover the judicial expenses of the commissioner.

In addition, £11,634 was spent on a legal challenge against an order from the commissioner to hand over CCTV in relation to a criminal case.

An appeal against the commissioner on facts surrounding a death cost the force £2,772.

Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Liam Kerr said the spending on legal fees was "excessive" given the challenging financial circumstances of Police Scotland, which had a £47 million deficit in its 2017/18 budget.

He said: "These revelations are particularly embarrassing for an organisation which is supposed to be leading the way in transparency and accountability.

"People will think that Police Scotland should respect the rulings of Scotland's Information Commissioner, not spend tens of thousands fighting them in court.

"This is all money which could have been invested in the frontline and supporting hardworking officers. Instead, it's been squandered on legal fees.

"With this level of waste, it's no wonder Police Scotland finds it difficult to make ends meet."

Deputy Chief Constable Johnny Gwynne said: "Police Scotland is committed to being as transparent and accountable as possible.

"Every year the service receives around 3,000 requests for information under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act, more than any other public body in Scotland. In the overwhelming majority of cases, information is provided.

"However, FOI(S)A is not an absolute right to allow access to information, and the service must consider the impact of releasing information on both individuals and the wider community.

"In addition to scrutinising the suitability of a FOI request, Police Scotland must balance all its obligations under Scots law, including the Human Rights Act and the Criminal Procedures (Scotland) Act with its responsibility to protect the lives, safety and rights of those providing officers with information, alongside the need to safeguard the integrity of court processes and ongoing criminal proceedings.

"The legal costs quoted resulted from three cases between 2015/16 and 2017/18 (to date).

"Police Scotland currently manages around 3,000 FOI requests per annum, therefore would have handled approximately 9,000 FOI requests, without the need of advice from Counsel, within the same time frame."