Here you can find out more about the type of investigations we conduct: who can refer an incident to us; the legislation that enables us to carry out investigations and the meaning of some of the terms we use. 

What kind of investigations can the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) refer to the Commissioner for investigation?

The COPFS can refer the following circumstances to the Commissioner for investigation:

  • Any circumstances where there is an indication that a person serving with the police may have committed an offence
  • The circumstances of any death involving a person serving with the police which the Procurator Fiscal is required to investigate under the Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths Inquiry (Scotland) Act 1976.

Who is 'a person serving with the police'?

This is defined as including:

  • A Constable of Police Scotland
  • A member of police staff or
  • A member of Scottish Police Authority (SPA) staff.

Which policing bodies can the PIRC investigate?

  • Police Scotland
  • Scottish Police Authority (SPA)
  • 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.

What kind of investigations must the Chief Constable of Police Scotland refer to the Commissioner?

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 at or before his or her 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.

What does use of a firearm mean?

The 'use of a firearm' means:

  • The presentation or discharge of a conventional firearm (pointing or firing a gun)
  • The discharge of a Taser or CS/PAVA spray

What kind of investigations must the Scottish Police Authority refer to the Commissioner?

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

  • Any circumstance in which there has been a serious incident involving the police relating to 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.

Who is a 'senior officer'?

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

Does the PIRC investigate police misconduct?

The 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).

What other matters might the Commissioner decide to investigate?

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.

What powers does the PIRC 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: detain, 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.  

I am a serving police officer or member of police staff and the PIRC’s investigators want to speak to me. What do I need to know?

You can find out more about what to expect if the PIRC’s investigators want to speak to you in our 'For Police' section.

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.

I am not a person serving with the police and the PIRC wants to speak to me. What do I need to know?

If the PIRC contacts you as part of an investigation, it will only ever be in your capacity as a witness to an incident. The PIRC has no power to investigate anyone other than persons serving with the police.

Does the Chief Constable of Police Scotland have to refer all incidents to the Commissioner that involve the use of batons?

No, although he can choose to do so.

What legislation applies to PIRC investigations?

What must the PIRC do if an inference of criminality is found during an investigation?

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