Investigations - FAQs

We independently investigate incidents involving policing bodies.

Please use our frequently asked questions to better understand what we can and cannot do.

Investigations - FAQs

COPFS will instruct us to investigate serious incidents involving the police. These include deaths in custody, deaths following police contact and allegations of criminality made about police officers. 

The Chief Constable must refer serious incidents involving the police to the Commissioner. 'Serious incidents’ means:

  • The death or serious injury of a person who had direct or indirect contact with the police. This will have been at or before their death or serious injury where there is an indication that the contact may have caused, or contributed to, the death or serious injury.
  • Police use of a firearm, which includes the presentation or discharge of a gun and the discharge of a Taser or CS/PAVA spray.

The 'use of a firearm' means:

  • The presentation or discharge of a conventional firearm (pointing or firing a gun, either on or off aim).
  • The discharge of a Taser or CS/PAVA spray.

The Scottish Police Authority (SPA) must refer to the Commissioner:

  • Any circumstance in which there has been a serious incident involving a member of the Authority's staff.
  • Potential misconduct by a senior officer of Police Scotland, if the Authority considers that the matter needs to be investigated.

This is defined as including:

  • Any police officer
  • Any member of police staff.
  • Any member of Scottish Police Authority (SPA) staff.

A 'senior officer' means a police officer who holds the rank of Assistant Chief Constable (ACC) or above.

PIRC can only investigate alleged misconduct by a senior officer of Assistant Chief Constable (ACC) rank or above following a referral from the Scottish Police Authority (SPA).

The Commissioner may investigate matters relating to the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) or Police Scotland where she considers that it would be in the public interest to do so.

PIRC investigators have the powers and privileges of a constable when undertaking an investigation on behalf of the Commissioner. 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).
  • Remove anything that is considered relevant to the investigation.

When conducting an investigation referred by the Chief Constable or Scottish Police Authority (SPA), PIRC investigators can require an officer or member of police staff, if they are considered to be a witness to events, to produce any document, record or other information that may be required in a form acceptable to the Commissioner.

If PIRC contacts you as part of an investigation, it will only ever be in your capacity as a witness to an incident.

We have no power to investigate anyone other than those serving with the police.

If, at any point during an investigation into a matter referred by a policing body, we find that there is an inference of criminality, we must suspend the investigation, notify the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) and await instructions on how to proceed.

Please do not include any personal information, for example information about a complaint or investigation you are involved in. If you would like to share any important information with us, please visit our Contact us page to find out how to get in touch.