The Complaints Process

If a complaint about an on duty member or members of Police Scotland is received, how will it be handled?

Initial Stage

When a complaint is first received, a senior officer will attempt to contact the person who has lodged the complaint and take an initial report, which will outline the nature of the complaint.

If the complaint is of a non-criminal nature, the senior officer may explain:

  • The complaints procedure and give you the opportunity to discuss your complaint.
  • Why the relevant member of the Force took a certain course of action.
  • The range of powers available to the police.
  • The investigations/actions we plan to carry out.
  • Experience has shown that many members of the public are unaware of the extent of police powers and responsibilities. By providing an explanation, reassurance, clarification – or even an apology, it has been shown to be possible to resolve matters to the complainer’s satisfaction.

Distinction between criminal and non-criminal complaints

Complaints of a non-criminal nature will be resolved at a local level, so, for this reason, these are normally dealt with by a supervisor or senior office from the division/department concerned.

Upon completion of the enquiry, the complainer will receive correspondence outlining:

  • The result of the complaint investigation
  • Any learning points identified
  • Any action taken

However, if the allegation lodged is of a criminal nature, the Force cannot resolve or attempt to resolve the complaint.

By law, allegations of criminality against a member(s) of the Force are, no matter how minor, automatically referred to the Procurator Fiscal (PF).

The Procurator Fiscal is entirely independent of the police and provides impartiality to the investigation of the complaint.

Next Stage

If there is inference of criminal conduct in the action of the member(s) of the Force, the complaint will be reported to the Professional Standards Department by the division or police department.

Cases involving possible alleged criminal activity may be referred directly to the Procurator Fiscal.  However, if it is considered that further enquiry is needed, an investigating officer will be appointed to conduct further enquiry. 

In all cases a full report outlining all the available evidence will be sent to the Procurator Fiscal.  If the Procurator Fiscal deems that a criminal investigation is necessary, then the following process will take place.

Criminal Investigation

The decision on whether the member of the Force will be prosecuted rests entirely with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal service.

If the Procurator Fiscal decides not to prosecute, the Deputy Chief Constable will consider whether to institute formal disciplinary proceedings against the relevant member(s) of the Force or to deal with the matter by other means.

If the Procurator Fiscal decides to prosecute, criminal proceedings will normally be concluded before misconduct proceedings are considered.

At various stages of the procedure, the Force will contact the person who lodged the complaint updating them on how the case is progressing.  The person will also be informed if the Force has taken disciplinary action or does not consider disciplinary action to be required.

After receiving a report, the Procurator Fiscal may decide that the complaint does not reasonably infer criminal conduct on the part of the member(s) of the Force, and will refer it back to the Force.  Thereafter, consideration will be given as to whether there are grounds for internal action to be taken against the member(s) of the Force subject to the complaint.

What if I am not satisfied with the outcome of an investigation

If you remain dissatisfied at the conclusion of the complaint process the Police Investigations & Review Commissioner (PIRC) is the appropriate organisation to contact to request that your complaint is reviewed.  The PIRC is an independent organisation not connected to the police, which provides scrutiny of the way Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority and policing agencies in Scotland respond to complaints from the public. 

The PIRC can only conduct a review of the way a complaint has been handled by the police when the complaint process has been concluded and a final letter has been sent responding to all aspects of the complaint.  A request for the PIRC to review the way a complaint has been handled must be made within three months of the date of the final letter from the police.

The PIRC can be contacted at:   

Police Investigations and Review Commissioner logoPolice Investigations & Review Commissioner 
Hamilton House
Hamilton Business Park
Caird Park
HAMILTON
ML3 0Q

www.pirc.scotland.gov.uk
Freephone: 0808 178 5577
Email: enquiries@pirc.gsi.gov.uk
Fax: 01698 542 901

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