Here you can find out more about what to do if you have a complaint about a police body and more details about our role in reviewing complaints. 

How do I apply for a Complaint Handling Review?

If you would like the PIRC to review how the police handled your complaint, you should submit a completed review application form within three months of the date on which the police contacted you with the final outcome of your complaint.

What happens during the Complaint Handling Review (CHR) process?

If we decide to carry out a CHR, we will write to you asking you to confirm which of the complaints you made to the police body that you would like us to review.

During the CHR, we will consider the facts of your case and review all the information provided by you and the police body. We will consider whether the police body carried out sufficient enquiries into your complaint, look at how it reached its conclusion, examine the evidence on which the conclusion was based and decide whether or not the complaint was dealt with to a reasonable standard.

We will keep you regularly updated on our progress during your review and will be in contact at least once every six weeks.  Download our Standards of Service.

At the end of our review process, we will send you a copy of our report, which will outline:

  • The complaint(s) which was/ were reviewed
  • the background to your complaint(s)
  • how the police body handled your complaint(s)
  • our consideration of how the police body handled your complaint(s)
  • our conclusions and where appropriate, any recommendations to the police in connection with how they handled your complaint.

Complaint Handling Reviews are often published on this website. View our published complaint handling reviews.

What sort of information should I include about my complaint on my application form?

In order for us to carry out a Complaint Handling Review, we need you to provide us with your original complaint and the reason(s) why you are unhappy with the final response from the police body. Try to be as specific as possible.

We do not need you to explain the background to your complaint in your application.

 

Can anyone help me complete my Complaint Handling Review application form?

If you need help completing the form you could ask a family member or friend to help you. You can also contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau; or a solicitor who may be able to help you. Find contact details of support organisations that may also be able to offer you assistance.

Can I apply for a Complaint Handling Review anonymously?

No. We cannot review how your complaint was handled by a police body without your personal details.  We need to have information about you and your complaint(s) as well as your authorisation to speak to the police body concerned about your complaint(s). You should also be aware that we publish most of our Complaint Handling Review reports on our website. These reports are anonymised.

How will you review my complaint?

The PIRC will request the case papers relating to your complaint from the police body involved. We examine the facts of the case and will consider whether or not the information available supports your complaint. We will also look at the police body's response to you and consider whether this addresses your complaint. The PIRC will then form a view on whether the complaint was dealt with to a reasonable standard.

The outcome of your Complaint Handling Review will be explained in a report which will be sent to both you and the police body. Any police officer or member of civilian staff involved in the complaint will be informed of the outcome of the PIRC review.

Will the Commissioner personally undertake my Complaint Handling Review (CHR)?

Probably not. The Commissioner is only personally involved in reviews that are considered to raise the most serious issues. For cases that are not considered to fall into this category, we operate a scheme of delegation whereby cases are delegated to senior staff.   

How long will it take to conduct a Complaint Handling Review (CHR)?

We aim to undertake the review process as quickly as possible. However, as each case is different the time taken to review it will vary depending on factors such as the complexity of the complaint or the volume of information we receive from you and the police body involved.

 

Will I be named in the review?

No. Whilst we publish most of our Complaint Handling Review reports on our website, personal details such as names and addresses are anonymised.

Do you represent me?

No. The PIRC is impartial and independent. We do not represent you or police bodies. We review how complaints have been handled in an independent, open and fair manner.

Can you give me legal advice?

No. We are impartial and will not provide legal advice. If we cannot review your complaint then we will try to direct you to an organisation that may be able to help. If you would like to know more about seeking legal advice, you can contact the Scottish Legal Aid Board or the Law Society of Scotland.

Do I have to pay to apply for a Complaint Handling Review (CHR)?

No. Our service is free.

Can you ask a police body to pay me compensation?

No. We cannot ask any police body to award you compensation. Find out more about possible outcomes of your review.

What can I do if I'm unhappy with the outcome of the Complaint Handling Review?

If you are dissatisfied with the outcome of the Complaint Handling Review you can consult your local Citizens Advice Bureau or a solicitor about what further action you can take.

If I want to make a complaint about a police body, what should I do?

You should first make your complaint to the Professional Standards Department of the police body concerned and allow them to deal with your complaint before you contact the PIRC.  Click here for contact details of the police bodies that operate in Scotland

Once you have received the final response to your complaint from the police body concerned and if you are dissatisfied with the way your complaint has been handled, you can then ask the PIRC to undertake a Complaint Handling Review (CHR).

If you wish to request a CHR, you should complete and submit an application form to the PIRC.  You can do this online here or you can download/ask us to send you a copy which you can post back to us.

You should specifically identify on the application form which of the complaints you made to the police body that you would like us to review.

By signing the application form or clicking the digital signature box, you agree that we can ask the police body to provide us with any information it has about your complaint(s).

If we need further information to help us consider your application we will let you know what else we need you to submit.

Once we have considered the information in your application form and decided that it may be eligible for review, we will ask the police body to send us all the available information about your case. When this information has been provided, we will then let you know whether we are able to review your complaint.

What can the PIRC review?

If you have made a complaint about an individual police officer or civilian staff member from any of the police bodies operating in Scotland and you are dissatisfied with how that police body dealt with your complaint, we can review how that body handled your complaint. We cannot review the original complaint itself.

Who can apply for a Complaint Handling Review?

You can apply for a CHR if you are:

  • The person in relation to whom the alleged failing occurred.
  • Any other person who claims to be adversely affected by the alleged failing.
  • Any person who claims to have witnessed the alleged failing.
  • A person acting on behalf of any of the above.

Which police bodies can I ask PIRC to carry out a Complaint Handling Review about?

The PIRC can review how the following Scottish police bodies handled your complaint :

  • Police Scotland
  • Scottish Police Authority (SPA)

In addition, the PIRC can review how the following UK-wide police bodies handled your complaint, if at the relevant time they were operating in Scotland:

  • British Transport Police
  • British Transport Police Authority
  • Civil Nuclear Constabulary
  • Civil Nuclear Police Authority
  • Ministry of Defence Police
  • The National Crime Agency
  • The Home Office
  • HM Revenue & Customs

Are there any circumstances where the PIRC may not be able to consider my application?

  • If we receive your request for a review after three months have passed, we may be unable to consider your case.
  • We do not have the power to review how complaints were handled by the police body if the complaints allege criminality. These complaints are considered by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service
  • We also cannot review complaints from individuals serving with the police about their terms and conditions of employment.

Although we can review how your complaint has been handled, we do not carry out further investigation into your original complaint.  Find out more about our review process and possible outcomes of a review here. 

If your complaint is about something that we cannot review, we will try to point you to another organisation that may be able to help you.  View our list of useful contacts and websites.

For further information on the remit and powers of the PIRC in relation to reviews, please see the Police, Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2006, as amended by the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012.

Is the PIRC independent of the police?

The Commissioner, who is appointed by Scottish Ministers, is independent of the police and delivers a free and impartial service. The role of the PIRC is to independently investigate incidents involving the police and independently review the way the police handle complaints from the public. The aim is to secure public confidence in policing in Scotland.

Click here for further details.

Is there a time limit for bringing complaints to the PIRC?

Yes. If you want us to undertake a Complaint Handling Review (CHR) you must submit a completed review application form to us within three months of the date on which the police contacted you with the final outcome of your complaint. If we receive your request for a review after three months have passed, we may be unable to consider your case unless we are satisfied that there are exceptional circumstances for the delay.

What are the possible outcomes of a Complaint Handling Review?

After reviewing how your complaint was handled by the police body we may consider that:

  • your complaint was handled reasonably.
  • your complaint was not handled reasonably.
  • recommendations should be made to the police body.
  • a Reconsideration Direction should be issued to the police body.
  • a Learning Point should be issued to the police body.

 For more information go to the section on Possible Outcomes of a review.

My complaint was handled reasonably

This means that we have concluded that the police body has dealt with your complaint to a reasonable standard and in line with its complaint handling procedures. However, in some cases where we find the complaint has been handled reasonably we may still identify learning and issue either a recommendation or a learning point for police.

My complaint was not handled reasonably

This means that we have decided that the police body has not dealt with your complaint to a reasonable standard. A recommendation, a reconsideration direction or a learning point (see below for more information on these) may be made to the police body concerned to address any failing identified.

A recommendation is made to the police body

If during the Complaint Handling Review we identify failings, shortcomings or deficiencies in the way the police body has handled your complaint, we may issue a recommendation. A recommendation may ask the police body to carry out further enquiries into your complaint, provide you with a more detailed response or even re-assess the available evidence based on the findings of our report.

A reconsideration direction is issued to the police body

In some cases, we may issue a reconsideration direction. This means that we have concluded that your complaint must be looked at again in full. In these circumstances, we would direct that someone who has had no previous involvement with your complaint is appointed by the police body to carry out the reconsideration. The reconsideration may be supervised by us depending on the seriousness of the case and any public interest considerations.

A learning point is issued to the police body

In all cases, we look for learning opportunities for the police so that their standard of complaint handling can be improved in the future. For example, we may point to aspects of the complaint handling that we believe could have been improved, without going so far as making a recommendation. We will also highlight any opportunities for organisational learning that we identify during the review, such as improving or reviewing police standard operating procedures or policies.