Guidance for police

Guidance for police icon

Learning Point Issue 20 - April 2022

25 Apr 2022


This bulletin is for everyone who deals with police complaints and works or serves with any of the policing bodies operating in Scotland. We offer guidance, updates and best practice based on recommendations made by our review and investigations teams. These will help you better understand correct complaint processes, and ultimately encourage improvements to the service being delivered to the public.

Operational guidance

Arrest and release of accused persons prior to being processed through a custody suite.

We would like to take this opportunity to highlight a specific area of guidance based on recent investigations and referrals.

When police officers deem it appropriate to convey an arrested person to a police station, that person should be presented to custody staff and processed in accordance with Police Scotland procedures.

A number of our recent referrals identified instances where individuals were arrested by officers, and then conveyed to the immediate curtilage, or car park of a custody suite, but not subsequently presented as an arrested person to be processed by custody staff.

A number of our recent referrals identified instances where individuals were arrested by officers, and then conveyed to the immediate curtilage, or car park of a custody suite, but not subsequently presented as an arrested person to be processed by custody staff.

The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016, Section 4 provides that: ‘(1) Where a person is arrested by a constable outwith a police station, a constable must take the person as quickly as is reasonably practicable to a police station.’

In addition, The Police Scotland Care and Welfare of Persons in Police Custody Standard Operating Procedure, Section 6 provides that:

(6.1) When a person is arrested, the prisoner should be removed to a custody centre at the earliest opportunity. Consideration must always be given to any immediate medical needs or mental health assessments required.’

In the main, there was no communication with the custody supervisor in these instances and the decision to release the prisoner was made by the arresting or officers transporting the arrested person.

As a result, custody staff were unable to process the prisoners and afford them their rights as an accused person or assess any welfare or care needs.

We would take this opportunity to remind all Police Scotland officers, where they initially deem it appropriate to convey an arrested person to a police station, that the person should be presented to custody staff and processed in accordance with Police Scotland procedures

Who we are

PIRC carries out independent investigations into certain incidents involving the police.

  • We review how policing bodies in Scotland have handled complaints made about them by the public.
  • We ensure that Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) have suitable systems in place for handling complaints.
  • We are independent, and make our decisions entirely independently of the police and government.

New referral model review underway

A review has been commissioned to examine the guidance and associated practices around the new responsibilities to investigate and audit breaches of Articles 3 and 5 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).

The aim of the review is to ensure the processes meet the needs of the three organisations involved and are as efficient as possible. 

The review will explore the end-to-end process outlined in guidance including:

The intimation of an allegation

  • Transference of investigative ownership
  •  Intimation processes
  •  Correspondence auditability. 

The categorisation and styles of reporting to Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) will also be examined along with format and quality assurance arrangements. 

The review began on 1 February 2022 and is due to report its findings in March 2022. The review group is being chaired by COPFS and will compile a final composite report, delivering their findings to each organisation involved.


On 4 October 2021, PIRC assumed responsibility for the assessment, investigation and audit of allegations relating to breaches of Articles 3 and 5 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).

  • Article 3 refers specifically to the prohibition of torture – inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, including allegations of assault. 
  • Article 5 refers specifically to the right to liberty and security – unlawful arrest and detention. 

This was in direct response to one of the recommendations from the Dame Elish Angiolini review recommendations. PIRC was issued a standing instruction from COPFS to undertake investigations related to the following types of allegations against serving police officers: 

  • Allegations of assault
  • The use of excessive force
  • Unlawful arrest. 

PIRC then established a new Investigations Assessment Unit to deal with all Article 3 and 5 referrals from Police Scotland. 

The team consists of a deputy senior investigator and five investigators, overseen by a senior investigator, and supported by the investigations administration department

Statutory guidance update

The purpose of our Statutory Guidance is to set standards for police complaint handling in Scotland, by providing practical advice on how complaints should be dealt with.

As an organisation, we recognise the importance of continually reviewing our Statutory Guidance to ensure that it remains relevant and fit for purpose.

For this reason, and following recent discussions with the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Scotland, we’ve made a number of revisions to our Statutory Guidance following its publication in March 2021.

Our revised Statutory Guidance has been issued to our key stakeholders for consultation, including the SPA, Police Scotland and other policing bodies operating in Scotland. This concluded on 18 March 2022 and we are currently considering their feedback.

We hope to publish the revised guidance shortly thereafter.

As well as reminding policing bodies of their Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) in terms of Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, we’ve emphasised the importance of capturing and analysing equality data to ensure the police complaints system is accessible to everyone.

This is the guiding principle underpinning an effective and efficient police complaints system.

Our Statutory Guidance actively encourages police complaint handlers to be flexible and to consider if reasonable adjustments will be required to meet the needs of an individual to enable them to access the police complaints system.

Building on the already established principles of transparency and accountability, the revised PIRC Statutory Guidance will reinforce our commitment to promoting a culture where complaints are viewed as an opportunity for learning and improvement.

Our revised Statutory Guidance provides clarity when it comes to dealing with off duty and anonymous complaints, and will allow greater flexibility for policing bodies when it comes to dealing with low-level complaints.

As an organisation, we recognise the importance of continually reviewing our Statutory Guidance to ensure that it remains relevant and fit for purpose.

National Complaint Handling Development Group

Progress update

The National Complaint Handling Development Group (NCHDG) was set up in September 2019 to encourage and promote a collaborative approach to complaint handling.

Established by our Head of Reviews and Policy, the group is attended by those involved in complaint handling at a practitioner level from PIRC, the SPA and Police Scotland.

Against the backdrop of the demands placed on Police Scotland during COP26 in 2021, the group has played a key role in driving a number of key initiatives and projects.

The majority of these are aligned to the recommendations made by the Rt. Hon Dame Angiolini in the Independent Review of Complaints Handling, Investigations and Misconduct Issues in Relation to Policing.

What kind of complaints does the PIRC review?

 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.

What type of complaints can't PIRC review?

We cannot review complaints which allege 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.

How does PIRC review complaints?

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 the PIRC 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. 

If the 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.

Key initiative updates


PIRC, SPA and Police Scotland have all revised and updated their websites, making them more accessible to members of the public to make complaints, to access information about the complaint process and improving overall user experience.


Prior to COP26, Police Scotland introduced a new QR Code to be used by members of the public to access Police Scotland’s online complaint form. This will improve accessibility and make it easier for members of the public to make a complaint about the police.


Working in partnership with the SPA, we are currently carrying out an audit of the initial complaints assessment process and triage by the National Complaint Assessment and Resolution Unit within Police Scotland.

This audit aims to ensure that all relevant complaints, criminal allegations and misconduct allegations are correctly identified during the initial assessment and progressed accordingly.

The group has played a key role in terms of facilitating the planning of the audit.

Guidance & Standard Operating Procedures

The development group continues to be a valuable forum for those dealing with complaints. It has allowed helpful discussions which have then gone on to shape policy and streamline our approach to dealing with common issues. Specific updates include:

  • Consultation with the group assisted the PIRC when developing their new Statutory Guidance in March 2021.
  • Similarly, the SPA has revised and published new complaint handling procedures.
  • All three key participants have revised and aligned their Unacceptable Actions/ Behaviours policies designed to protect our staff from being adversely affected by the unacceptable actions and behaviours by service users.

Training & development 

In May 2021, Police Scotland introduced a new complaint handling model for dealing with relevant complaints. This led to a significant number of new staff joining the Professional Standards Department to become complaint handling practitioners. 

Working with our colleagues at Police Scotland and COPFS, we helped develop and deliver a Joint Induction Training Package for the new recruits. 

The training has since received really positive feedback. As a result, the group is now looking at the possibility of introducing a rolling complaint handling training programme, which will involve an annual conference and CPD events. 

Learning and improvement 

One of the group’s main aims is to promote a culture where complaints are seen as valuable feedback that identify individual or organisational learning and improvement. 

Communicating lessons learned and highlighting positive outcomes to the wider organisation is also a vital part of the groups objectives. 

As a result, learning and recommendations are now included within the existing Commanders Report for local policing divisions, alongside the introduction of a Head of PSD blog within Police Scotland.

What happens at the end of a PIRC Complaint Review?

Following a complaint handling review, irrespective of its findings, we may make recommendations or identify learning points for policing bodies in order to minimise the likelihood of similar problems arising in the future.

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

In certain circumstances the PIRC may decide that it should supervise the reconsideration. Recommendations and reconsideration directions should be implemented within two months of the date of a review report being issued.

New Discrimination Guidelines

The Independent Review of Complaints Handling, Investigations and Misconduct Issues in Relation to Policing was published in November 2020.

Since then we have revised our existing processes and practices, taking cognisance of the approach adopted by our colleagues in other parts of the UK.

In November 2021 we published new guidelines for staff: Guidance for dealing with allegations of discrimination when undertaking Investigations and Complaint Handling Reviews.

This guidance is designed to help our staff better understand and identify issues of discrimination, to understand its impact and how it’s likely to manifest itself, as well as encouraging consistency of approach.

In summary, the guidance provides:

  • practical advice for our Investigators and Review Officers when dealing with allegations of direct or indirect discrimination and hate crimes
  • guidance on engaging and communicating with complainers
  • helpful advice on issues to consider during the investigation/review and at the determination stage when dealing with allegations of discrimination and a range of useful practical examples. 

You can find out more about the PIRC Discrimination Guidelines here.

"The guidelines, supported by practical examples, set the standards that complainers, nearest relatives and other interested parties should expect from the PIRC when allegations of discrimination are made against the police. They are also the standards that we will apply when conducting our investigations and complaint handling reviews."

The Commissioner


“We all have the right to be treated equally, regardless of our race, ethnicity, nationality, class, caste, religion, belief, sex, gender, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, sex characteristics, age, health or other status.”

Amnesty International 

Being treated equally, irrespective of our age, religion, ethnicity, gender or other protected characteristic, is a basic and fundamental human right.

However, it’s not always easy to identify potential discrimination issues, particularly when the allegation isn’t clearly made out. 

Indeed, recognising and understanding discrimination was identified by the Rt. Hon Dame Eilish Angiolini in the Independent Review of Complaints Handling, Investigations and Misconduct Issues in Relation to Policing as an area of improvement for the PIRC.

The Review emphasised the need for PIRC to revise existing procedures and guidance for dealing with allegations of discrimination. More specifically, The Review recommended that we should be alive to discrimination, suggesting we would benefit from a systematic approach for considering potential discrimination issues within our review and investigation functions.

PIRC Investigations

Single Points of Contact (SPOCs)

Our investigations team carry out independent investigations into certain incidents involving the policing bodies and organisations located in Scotland that fall under our legislative remit, namely:

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

In addition, we also have a wide range of other stakeholders who staff interact and communicate with on a regular basis. These include:

  • Crown Office and Procurator Fiscals Service (COPFS), in particular the Criminal Allegations Against the Police Division (CAAPD) and the Scottish Fatalities Investigation Unit (SFIU)
  • Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland
  • Garda Ombudsman
  • Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC)
  • Association of Scottish Police Superintendents (ASPS)
  • Scottish Police Federation (SPF)

Our staff engage with the policing bodies and stakeholders on a regular basis so we have established Single Points of Contact (SPOCs) within each organisation. These SPOCs support our function, operational responsibilities and help maintain effective and efficient lines of communication, which benefit everyone.

The majority of referrals we receive, involve police officers or staff of Police Scotland. This means, PIRC Investigations have a numbers of SPOCs throughout a variety of departments, including:

  • Professional Standards
  • Firearms
  • Scottish Police College
  • Custody Division
  • Roads Policing
  • Officer Safety Training
  • C3 Communications
  • Scottish Crime Campus

There are a network of primary and secondary contacts within these functions. They help us to maintain regular contact, seek specialist information or support for investigations and maintain awareness of changes in practice and procedures.

These relationships proved invaluable in the build up to, and during, COP26 when we participated in numerous planning meetings to ensure an appropriate and professional response to any serious incident.

In addition, regular liaison meetings are held with the appropriate departments within COPFS on operational and strategic matters. This maintains positive relationships and ensures that any significant issues are discussed.

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