Police - FAQs

We ensure that Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) have suitable systems in place for handling complaints.   

We also carry out independent investigations into certain incidents involving the police. 


The Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 amended the Police, Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2006, adding an investigatory functions to the PIRC. 

This allows PIRC to carry out independent investigations into the most serious incidents involving the police. 

PIRC carries out investigations into: 

  • Incidents involving the police when directed by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), such as deaths in custody and allegations of criminality. 
  • Incidents involving the police when requested by the Chief Constable or Scottish Police Authority (SPA), such as the serious injury of a person in custody, the death or serious injury of a person following police contact, 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, when requested by the SPA. 
  • Relevant police matters which the Commissioner considers would be in the public interest.

Under the Police Service of Scotland (Senior Officers) Conduct Regulations 2013  PIRC may investigate cases of misconduct by senior officers. PIRC has no remit to investigate allegations of misconduct by Federated police officers (Constables, Sergeants, Inspector and Chief Inspectors) or Superintendents and Chief Superintendents.

All sudden, suspicious and unexplained deaths are reported to the COPFS who will then examine the circumstances of the death and decide whether to instruct the PIRC to investigate. 

Where a person dies in police custody there will always be an independent investigation. COPFS can also instruct PIRC to investigate incidents where a person has died following direct or indirect contact with the police.  

Otherwise, it is PIRC’s decision whether or not to investigate other types of serious incidents or a matter that is in the public interest. PIRC has discretion on whether or not to investigate allegations of misconduct referred by the SPA. By law, it must investigate allegations of gross misconduct.

A “serious incident involving the police” which the Commissioner may investigate is: 

  • a circumstance in or in consequence of which a person has died or has sustained serious injury where the person, at or before the time of death or serious injury, had contact (directly or indirectly) with a person serving with the police acting in the execution of that person's duties; and there is an indication that the contact may have caused (directly or indirectly) or contributed to the death or serious injury; 
  • any other circumstance in or in consequence of which a person has otherwise sustained a serious injury at a time when the person was being detained or kept in custody by a person serving with the police; or a person serving with the police has used a firearm or any other weapon of such description as the Scottish Ministers may by regulations specify.

PIRC investigators have all the powers and privileges of a police constable throughout Scotland when undertaking an investigation on behalf of the Commissioner. 

This includes the power to arrest, question, report for prosecution and seize evidence. When carrying out an investigation following a referral from the Chief Constable or SPA, PIRC investigators may enter Police Scotland or SPA premises at any time to inspect and/or remove anything considered relevant to the investigation. 

PIRC investigators can require any police officer, member of police staff or member of SPA staff to hand over any document, record or other information which may be required to allow PIRC to examine the matter being investigated.

PIRC require to be instructed by COPFS to undertake an investigation into an allegation of criminality by a police officer, member of police staff or member of SPA staff. If you make a complaint direct to PIRC, we will refer the matter to COPFS and await their decision on whether they wish to instruct PIRC to investigate the allegation.   

Complaint Handling Reviews

We review the way in which policing bodies handle complaints made about them by the public. This includes complaints about the on and off-duty behaviour of police officers and staff, as well as complaints about the quality of service the public receives. 

We cannot review allegations of criminal behaviour by police officers or staff. These are dealt with by the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS). We also cannot consider complaints made by individuals currently or formerly serving with the police about employment matters, such as grievances, disciplinary issues, and terms and conditions of service. 

In certain circumstances we may decline to carry out a Complaint Handling Review.

A complaint about the police is defined as: a statement (whether oral, written or electronic) expressing dissatisfaction about an act or omission by the Scottish Police Authority, Police Scotland or someone who, at the time of the act or omission, was serving with the police. 

Any member of the public from any of the categories below may make a complaint: 

  • The person to whom the alleged act or omission occurred. 
  • Any other person who claims to be adversely affected by the alleged act or omission. 
  • Any person who claims to have witnessed the alleged act or omission. 


  • Any person acting on behalf of those listed above. 

Members of the public must always submit their complaint to the policing body concerned first. 

If at the conclusion of that body’s complaints process they remain dissatisfied, they can then ask us to review how their complaint was handled. They must do this within three months of the date of the final response from the policing body, otherwise we may be unable to accept the case. 

If PIRC agrees to conduct a complaint handling review, it will request the file from the policing body. After examining all of the evidence it will form a view on whether the complaint was dealt with to a reasonable standard. 

PIRC has no punitive powers. 

Following a Complaint Handling Review, irrespective of its findings, we may make recommendations to policing bodies in order to minimise the likelihood of similar problems arising in the future. 

In some cases we may issue a reconsideration direction. This means we have concluded that the complaint must be looked at again in full by someone who has had no prior involvement with it. In certain circumstances we may decide that we should supervise the reconsideration. 

We expect recommendations and reconsideration directions to be implemented within two months of the date of a review report being issued. 

If a member of the public brings a criminal allegation about the police to our attention and COPFS has not already dealt with it, we will refer the allegation to COPFS.

When we issue our report, we ask the relevant police personnel to inform the relevant officer(s) or staff members of our findings.

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.