Chapter 4 – Partnerships
178. In this chapter we turn our attention to relationships between the Scottish police service and its law enforcement partners. Thereafter we examine partnership working between police forces and central and local COPFS offices. Finally, we look at partnership working groups. We believe that effective partnership working is vitally important if POCA is to be applied effectively. This is reflected in the fact that the need to co-ordinate work between partner agencies, and specifically the need to develop a joint Scottish Proceeds of Crime Strategy are central themes of this report.
Police relationships with other law enforcement agencies
179. We have referred to the many relationships that exist between the Scottish police service and other law enforcement agencies throughout this report. We have observed examples of good practice, such as the successful secondment of staff from both the DWP and HMRC to the Scottish Money Laundering Unit within the SCDEA. Beyond the SCDEA the strength of relationships between individual forces and other law enforcement agencies is variable. We highlighted earlier in this report how some forces could pro-actively engage with local authority trading standards departments to identify opportunities for confiscation when investigating trademarks and copyright offences. This further reinforces the case for our earlier recommendation that the Scottish Proceeds of Crime Strategy recognise the need to establish appropriate arrangements between police forces and criminal justice partner agencies. We believe that this will not only improve current working relationships between partners, but will also allow good practice to be shared across Scotland.
Police relationships with the regulated sector
180. In the Processes section earlier in the report, we discussed the Suspicious Activity Report ( SAR) regime administered by the Serious Organised Crime Agency ( SOCA). We have also recommended that ACPOS and forces liaise with the regulated sector, in conjunction with the SOCA- UKFIU, in order improve the quantity and quality of SARs produced in Scotland.
181. That is not to ignore improvements in joint working between forces and the regulated sector that have occurred in the last year. In particular we have mentioned the good work of the Interventions Unit of SCDEA in working with the business community through the Scottish Business Crime Centre. Whilst we welcome their recent initiatives in engaging with the regulated sector, we feel that a more direct approach to those in the sector less likely to attend such gatherings could complement this good work.
Police relationships with centralised Crown Office units
182. During this inspection we observed close working relationships between staff in NCD and staff in the SCDEA. Given the focus on serious organised crime that has developed in both COPFS and the SCDEA this is perhaps not surprising. Time and effort have clearly been put into building these relationships, and despite a number of changes in personnel over a relatively short period of time they remain strong.
183. A similar relationship with NCD was not, however, apparent across the eight forces. Key themes from the police perspective were poor communication and a perceived lack of feedback from NCD staff. In our interviews with financial investigators it emerged that a number of unhelpful misconceptions had emerged, for example, in relation to settlement at confiscation as previously discussed.
184. Effective communication is an essential ingredient of good partnership working and the example above underscores the difficulties that can occur when it is absent. In this regard we welcome NCD's proposal to involve forces' financial investigators and financial analysts at the settlement stage of confiscation. We also note NCD's standing offer to contribute to training for law enforcement agencies on the subject of settlement. In the meantime, however, we urge forces and NCD to explore further ways to improve channels of communication.
185. Another area where we found strong working relationships was between local financial investigators in forces and members of staff on the cash seizure side of the civil recovery unit. In our view, these relationships and the shared understanding of cash seizure procedures that they generate, make a positive contribution to the success of this regime in Scotland. As we have already mentioned only a limited relationship exists between staff in other parts of the CRU and financial investigators because there is no direct reporting route for forces to CRU. We have recommended that the referral route to CRU be reviewed with the aim of establishing a more direct reporting route. We believe that the relationship between financial investigators and CRU staff that already exists bodes well for the future.
Relationships at a local level: Police/ PF
186. During our inspection we also examined relationships between police officers and POCA resource deputes in their local PF offices, in particular where relevant to obtaining investigative orders, restraint orders and civil cash seizures. Feelings were mixed on the question of how well partnerships were working with much appearing to depend on individual relationships. Specifically, where individuals had established personal contact with each other, commonly in the smaller offices, staff tended to report excellent relationships. Not surprisingly it was difficult to replicate such arrangements in the larger city offices, where there was more movement of staff and where relationships were less likely to be perceived well.
187. One problem cited by officers in some forces was of difficulty in speaking to a POCA resource depute, eg when seeking an urgent cash detention application or production order. At times this was because of the latter's court commitments and indeed police officers and POCA resource deputes expressed similar frustrations in this regard. In the larger offices in particular this meant that at times non-designated legal staff carried out the work.
188. As we have outlined in the People chapter of this report we believe as a way of mainstreaming the work the role of POCA resource depute could be extended to a greater number of deputes in each office.
189. Given that such difficulties arise more commonly in the larger, city offices it is perhaps worth noting that the practice adopted by the Edinburgh PFs office. There, all deputes within the Initial Case Processing ( ICP) unit deal with cash seizures as a matter of course. In addition, we were shown some excellent written guidance, made available in the ICP unit, which had been prepared by former NCD staff to support for those deputes, whether POCA resources or not, who were carrying out this work. Effectively cash seizure work has become a mainstream part of ICP function.
190. In addition there is a larger pool of experience of POCA in the office as a number of legal staff have spent some time in NCD. As we have observed with such a background, familiarity with the processes and legal considerations is very helpful. Thus whilst there are only two listed designated POCA resources in the Lothian and Borders area, in practice the availability of POCA resource deputes was not an issue for the other POCA work of restraint and investigative orders. A further advantage of positioning POCA work within a single unit, particularly in a large city office, is the presence there of a managerial point of contact.
191. In the longer term we conclude that one of the results of a mainstreaming strategy in COPFS should be that a greater proportion of deputes become sufficiently proficient in not only the cash seizure aspect of POCA but also the more complex restraint and investigative order work.
COPFS and other partners in POCA
192. We consulted with HMRC, DWP and SOCA during our inspection. In general we received positive feedback from these agencies and all referred to the good working relationships fostered in the Scottish Asset Recovery Group ( SARG) which we go on to describe below. Beyond this formal partnership group setting we saw evidence of fruitful partnerships between COPFS departments and SOCA, DWP and HMRC by way of recently signed Memoranda of Understanding ( MOUs). We are aware of further informal meetings and discussions which lead us to conclude that partnership working is being promoted.
193. The Scottish Asset Recovery Group ( SARG) came into effect in January 2008 with the dissolution of the former Concerted Interagency Criminal Finances Action Group Scotland ( CICFAS). The remit of the Group is:
"to provide a strategic focal point for member agencies in their efforts to tackle criminal finances in Scotland and to identify and disseminate best practice in recovering criminal assets. In addition it is to act as a reference point for the Serious Organised Crime Taskforce in matters relating to asset recovery."
194. SARG is currently chaired by the Head of Operations in COPFS and its members include representatives of NCD, CRU, the Scottish Government, the SCDEA, the Serious Organised Crime Agency, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, the Department of Work and Pensions, Local Authority Trading Standards Departments and the Scottish Court Service ( SCS). In addition, a member of the practitioners forum, the Scottish Financial Investigators Practitioners Forum ( SFIPF) attends SARG meetings on a rotational basis. All the organisations represented play a pivotal role in financial investigation and POCA and are collectively responsible for investigating, reporting and prosecuting cases and enforcement.
195. The fact that the eight Scottish police forces are not routinely represented as a matter of right suggests that SARG is heavily focused on the investigation and prosecution of the financial aspects of serious organised crime. It is our view that the chair of SARG should invite the ACPOS- POCA champion to become a core member of the Group.
196. Notwithstanding the above, we believe that SARG is an effective multi-agency forum for POCA. We have also observed effective partnership working in the Scottish Financial Investigator Practitioners forum, and in the SARG sub-groups such as the Cash Seizure working group and the financial analysts group.
197. We especially welcome SARG's intention to address the present lack of coherent performance data on key POCA activities in Scotland. The current system in use south of the border is the Joint Asset Recovery Database ( JARD). JARD is used in England and Wales as a tool to record outcomes throughout the process, from investigation to enforcement. The figures recorded to date using this system in Scotland have been recorded only by the Crown at the end of the process and relate solely to information concerning confiscation orders obtained. For law enforcement partners contributing to the start of the process this has been unsatisfactory.
198. SARG created a sub-group in late 2008 to investigate and report on this matter. At present much needs to be done by all the partners involved to bring Scottish data recording in line with the English system. Only then will further discussions be possible to establish whether the two systems could be joined in a more meaningful way. We are of the firm opinion that coherent and comprehensive performance management arrangements are needed in Scotland as a matter of urgency. Furthermore, we believe that the Serious Organised Crime Taskforce can play a part in co-ordinating this agenda in a joint Proceeds of Crime Strategy.
199. SARG's role in seeking to develop performance management arrangements for POCA is a clear demonstration of partnership working in this area. We believe that SARG has a key role to play in leading this progress across partner agencies. Having recommended that the Taskforce play a national coordinating role we are confident that progress on this matter will receive the attention it requires at the highest level.
For the future: co-location?
200. We have observed a willingness among the partner agencies to use secondments as a way of promoting better understanding of each other's roles, for example with secondees in SCDEA and in the CRU. Within a joint strategy we would encourage agencies to consider how further co-location could support effective partnership working under POCA. During our visits to England and Ireland, we had the opportunity to hear from partners and observe how they worked in a co-located context.
201. In England we learned about the experiences of police and prosecutors working in the five Regional Asset Recovery Teams ( RARTs). Led by police officers, RARTs include prosecutors who are able to give advice from the early stages of police operations right through to carrying out the legal processes for restraint and confiscation. Both organisations saw RARTS as a positive development that appeared to promote a better understanding of investigation and prosecution alike. Moreover, they seemed particularly helpful in urgent restraint situations.
202. We note COPFS' commitment in principle to co-location at the proposed multi-agency serious organised crime unit (at Gartcosh). We believe that such co-location is likely to support the financial investigation of serious organised crime further. It would also facilitate early decision-making and might allow swift recourse to civil or taxation POCA powers when appropriate.
203. In Ireland we observed the close working in multi-disciplinary teams of representatives of the police, civil recovery lawyers, tax inspectors and officials of the social security network in the Criminal Assets Bureau. There, two factors were considered fundamental to the excellent joint working arrangements in place: the first was the co-location of the various disciplines; the second was the statutory framework for information-sharing which allowed for rapid intelligence and information-gathering and early decisions.
204. In this section we have highlighted the range of partnership working arrangements that exist to secure the outcomes of POCA across Scotland. Partnerships are not an end in themselves rather they are mechanisms through which shared strategic intentions can be realised, assisted by sound communication between parties.
205. We have stated that the strategic intention for POCA should be expressed through a POCA strategy, co-ordinated the delivered by the SOCT. Within this context, we consider that the effectiveness of partnerships will undoubtedly continue to improve. As part of that progression those minor areas of difficulty which we did encounter, predominantly focused on communication, should also improve, as should any minor areas of difficulty predominately around communication that we encountered.