Research on stop and search in Scotland has prompted new legislation, major changes in police practice and a 93 per cent drop in stop searches and seizures.

Impacts

  • Dr Kath Murray's findings led to the Scottish Parliament passing the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act in December 2015. The Act abolished non-statutory stop and search, established a statutory Code of Practice, and introduced mechanisms to ensure stop and search is accountable and open to scrutiny.
  • Political and media debate sparked by Dr Murray's research drove changes in policing; in December 2015 officers recorded fewer than 5,000 stop searches and seizures, compared to just under 70,000 in August 2013 – a fall of 93 per cent. Until late 2014, around three-quarters of stop searches were carried out on a non-statutory basis; by December 2015, this had fallen to only seven per cent.
  • The research led to improved police practice, including new recording practices, routine publishing of statistics, police providing an advice slip stating the officers' details and reason for search, and a formal complaints procedure.

"For a doctoral project to have initiated a major public debate on an aspect of police practice and led directly to a change in legislation is unprecedented, in my experience." (Professor Richard Sparks, Head of Law School, University of Edinburgh)

About the research

Researching her PhD on police-public encounters, Dr Kath Murray uncovered an extraordinary fact: in 2010 police officers recorded more searches on 16-year-olds in Glasgow than the actual number of 16-year-olds living in the city. Her research showed very high levels of stop and search incidents – targeted disproportionately at teenage boys, undertaken without scrutiny or accountability, and largely carried out without reasonable grounds for suspicion.

"My findings revealed that people in Scotland were four times more likely to be searched than those living in England, and that hundreds of children – some as young as six – had been searched," Dr Murray explains. "Most of these searches had no legal basis, and it seemed likely that the prevalence of the practice was potentially damaging in terms of police legitimacy and police-community relations."

While her research was initially unwelcome to both Police Scotland and the Scottish Government, Dr Murray worked to raise awareness of the findings. She contributed to numerous press articles, wrote reports and blogs, spoke to influential stakeholders including the Scottish Human Rights Commission, the Children and Young People's Commissioner in Scotland and MSPs, and debated with the Shadow Justice Secretary.

In April 2015, faced with growing political and media concerns, the Scottish Government appointed an Independent Advisory Group to review the situation. Its recommendations were incorporated into the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, passed in December 2015.