Find out more about what our Investigations and Review teams do in our FAQ section.

If we need to talk to you in relation to a PIRC investigation or Complaint Handling Review (CHR), the section below contains information on what this might mean for you.


Where does the Commissioner get her power to conduct investigations and reviews?

The Police Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2006 as amended by The Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 gives the Commissioner powers to conduct investigations where directed by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) or when requested to do so by the Chief Constable or Scottish Police Authority (SPA). In addition, the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Investigations Procedure, Serious Incidents and Specified Weapons) Regulations 2013 provide additional powers to deal with referrals by the Chief Constable or SPA.

The Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 (Consequential Provisions and Modifications) Order 2013 extended the PIRC’s remit to investigate a constable/member/officer/official with:

(a) British Transport Police and the British Transport Police Authority;

(b) The Civil Nuclear Constabulary and the Civil Nuclear Police Authority;

(c) The Ministry of Defence Police;

(d) The Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), now the National Crime Agency;

(e) Revenue and Customs;

(f) a general customs official and any other person exercising general customs functions under the authority of the Secretary of State or the Director of Border Revenue;

(g) an immigration officer and an official of the Secretary of State exercising functions relating to asylum and immigration.

The Police, Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2006 (Consequential Provisions and Modifications) Order 2007 allows the PIRC to review the handling of complaints by the above policing bodies.

The Commissioner is also provided with powers in The Police Service of Scotland (Senior Officers) Conduct Regulations 2013 which allow for members of the Commissioner's staff to investigate in the conduct of senior officers of the rank of Assistant Chief Constable and above.

What powers do the PIRC's investigators have?

PIRC investigators have the powers and privileges of a constable when investigating a matter directed by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS). This includes: the power to arrest, question, report for prosecution and seize productions (including firearms, drugs and any other materials or documents).

When carrying out an investigation following a referral from the Chief Constable or SPA, the Commissioner's investigators may: enter Police Scotland or SPA premises; inspect those premises and anything on those premises (which is considered relevant to the investigation); and remove anything that is considered relevant to the investigation.

What type of investigation does the Commissioner undertake?

The Commissioner may undertake investigations in the following circumstances:

  • Incidents involving the police, directed by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS). These include deaths in custody and allegations of criminality made about police officers.
  • Serious incidents involving the police, at the request of the Chief Constable or the Scottish Police Authority (SPA). These include the serious injury of a person in police custody, the death or serious injury of a person following contact with the police or the use of firearms by police officers.
  • Allegations of misconduct by senior police officers of the rank of Assistant Chief Constable (ACC) and above, if requested by the SPA.
  • Relevant police matters which the Commissioner considers would be in the public interest.

At the conclusion of an investigation, the Commissioner can recommend improvements to the way the police deliver services to the public in Scotland.

Do the PIRC or police have primacy at the scene of an incident?

In the case of a death or alleged criminal act the senior PIRC investigator is under the instruction of the COPFS.

The matter will be resolved by the senior PIRC investigator liaising with the senior police officer at the scene and agreeing the appropriate procedure to support any investigation.

There may be cases where dual investigation and crime scene management is required. For example, at the scene of a robbery during which the police use firearms the police will carry out a criminal investigation into the robbery and the PIRC will investigate the circumstances relating to the police use of firearms.

If I am to be interviewed by the PIRC under caution, what should I do?

Your status will be made clear and you will have all the rights afforded to a suspect during a criminal investigation. You will be given the opportunity to be legally represented by a lawyer.

What complaints can the Commissioner review?

The Commissioner can review how the police handle non-criminal complaints made to them by the public, including:

  • Complaints about police officers, whether on or off-duty
  • Complaints about members of staff
  • Complaints about the quality of service provided by the police.

Before the Commissioner can consider a request for a Complaint Handling Review (CHR), the complainer must first go through the police complaints process. Once that process has been completed and the police have informed the complainer of the outcome, should the complainer be dissatisfied with the way the complaint was handled he/she may apply to us for a CHR.

The PIRC cannot review a complaint made by individuals who are serving, or who formerly served, with the police about the terms and conditions of their service.

What is the purpose of a Complaint Handling Review?

To determine whether a complaint was dealt with to a reasonable standard by the police.

How are complaints reviewed?

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

The outcome of a complaint handling review will be explained in a report which will be provided to the complainer and the police. For more information please see our review process.

Who can make a complaint?

Any member of the public who is:

  • 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 or any person acting on behalf of those listed above.

What constitutes a complaint?

A complaint about the police is defined as a statement (whether oral, written or electronic) expressing dissatisfaction about an act or omission by a policing body or by a person who, at the time of the act or omission, was a person serving with the police.

What kind of penalties or sanctions can the Commissioner impose?

The PIRC has no punitive powers.

The Commissioner can make recommendations for improvement and/or give reconsideration directions to policing organisations, irrespective of whether the complaint(s) is (are) upheld.

What power does the Commissioner have to deal with unjustified complaints?

Where the Commissioner considers that a complaint is, for example, vexatious or wholly lacking in foundation, she may decide not to carry out a Complaint Handling Review.