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This leaflet has been superseded. The latest leaflet can be found at Complaints about the Police leaflet


DescriptionFact card
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateMay 09, 2002



    This leaflet explains what to do if you need to make a complaint against a police officer in Scotland.
    It also explains how these complaints are dealt with.

    This document is also available in pdf format (73k)

    How can I make a complaint?

    If you think a police officer has behaved wrongly on duty or has committed an offence you can:

    • write to the Chief Constable of the police force concerned, or
    • give the details at any police station (or to any police
      officer), or
    • ask a solicitor, your MSP or your local councillor to take the matter up with the Chief Constable on your behalf, or
    • contact the local Procurator Fiscal if it appears the officer may have broken the law, or
    • speak to someone at the Citizen's Advice Bureau who will also be able to give you the names and addresses of the people or places mentioned in this leaflet.
    What should I say?
    • Say as much as you can about your complaint.
    • Describe what happened.
    • Give the name or number of the officer(s) concerned
      (if you know them).
    • Say where and when the incident took place.
    • Give the names and addresses of any witnesses
      (if you have them).
    What happens then?

    Normally a senior officer will visit or telephone to tell you about the complaints procedure and to give you the opportunity to discuss your complaint. Whenever possible, the senior officer will explain why the constable subject to complaint took a certain course of action, what the officer's duties were, what the police powers were, and in what circumstances the constable acted. Experience has shown that many people are unaware of the extent of police functions and responsibilities and that an explanation provided by a senior officer may help to clarify the position.

    If you are satisfied with the explanation given by the senior officer, your complaint will proceed no further. You may be asked to sign a piece of paper confirming that you are happy for this to happen. A record will be maintained of what has taken place.

    Any allegation of criminal conduct would not be the subject of an attempted informal resolution of this nature.

    Who will investigate my complaint?

    If things are not sorted out informally your complaint will be investigated by a senior police officer - known as the investigating officer. This senior officer must have had no earlier involvement with your case.

    How will my complaint be investigated?

    The investigating officer will talk to:

    • you;
    • any witnesses;
    • the officer(s) you have complained about.

    The investigating officer will refer an account of the investigation into your complaint to the Assistant Chief Constable, who has responsibility for complaints and conduct. In practice, he or she will generally have the title Deputy Chief Constable.

    At this stage the Assistant (or Deputy) Chief Constable can:

    • decide, after considering the investigating officer's report, that no formal action is needed, or
    • deal with the officer(s) under the police misconduct procedures, or
    • if it appears that the officer(s) may have broken the law, refer the case to the Regional Procurator Fiscal.

    Whatever action is taken you will be told by the Assistant (or Deputy) Chief Constable as soon as possible.

    The Regional Procurator Fiscal

    The Procurator Fiscal Service is entirely independent of the police and investigates allegations of criminal conduct in the public interest. Where the complainant alleges that an officer
    on duty has committed a crime this will be investigated by the Regional Procurator Fiscal. The Regional Procurator Fiscal may deal with the matter personally or may delegate the investigation to an experienced deputy to act on his/her behalf and report to him/her.

    Criminal proceedings

    On receipt of a report from the police the Regional Procurator Fiscal will:

    • start an investigation;
    • check the evidence;
    • have someone from the Procurator Fiscal service contact you.

    Your information is needed by the Regional Procurator Fiscal to assess the strength of the evidence against the officer(s) concerned. You may be asked to go to the Procurator Fiscal's office and speak to someone there.

    After looking into the case the Regional Procurator Fiscal will decide whether or not to report the case to the Crown Office (the headquarters of the Fiscal Service).

    What happens if a case is not reported to the Crown Office?

    If the case is not reported to the Crown Office that means that no criminal proceedings will be taken. The Regional Procurator Fiscal will let you know that there are to be no criminal proceedings. The Regional Procurator Fiscal will also refer the matter back to the force and it is for the force to decide whether misconduct proceedings should be taken in respect of the officer(s).

    What happens if a case is reported to the Crown Office?

    Crown Counsel (senior prosecution lawyers) will consider the case and will decide whether to prosecute the police matter. The Regional Procurator Fiscal's office will let you know what Crown Counsel decide. Police officers who are accused of a crime have the same rights under law as any other person and must be treated in the same way. If the case goes to court therefore, you and any other witnesses may have to attend court to give evidence.

    Police misconduct proceedings

    The police officer complained about may not have committed a criminal offence but may have behaved in a fashion considered inappropriate for a police officer. In these circumstances the Assistant (or Deputy) Chief Constable may, in conjunction with the officer's immediate supervisors:

    • warn the officer about the behaviour if the matter is not serious;
    • arrange for the officer to appear at a misconduct hearing.

    A misconduct hearing is a formal disciplinary tribunal chaired by a senior officer, who takes evidence. At the conclusion of the hearing the chairman reaches a decision on the allegation of misconduct. If the chairman makes a finding that an act or omission of the officer amounts to misconduct the chairman will impose a penalty from a range of penalties available to him.

    What if I am not satisfied with the handling of my complaint?

    If you are not satisfied with the treatment of your complaint you can write to Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) explaining why you are dissatisfied. You should make your approach to HMIC as promptly as possible _ if possible within one month of the police letting you know how they have dealt with your complaint.

    The address is:
    HM Inspectorate of Constabulary

    2 Greenside Lane, EDINBURGH EH1 3AH.

    What should I say to HM Inspectors?
    • Say as much as you can about your original complaint.
    • Give the reasons why you are dissatisfied with the way your complaint was dealt with by the force.
    • Offer any further information about your case which may have come to light since you first made your complaint.
    What happens then?

    HM Inspectors will:

    • ask the relevant police force for the report of the original investigation into your complaint;
    • examine the report;
    • decide whether your complaint has been handled properly or not.
    What happens if HM Inspectors decide that my complaint was properly dealt with in the first place?

    If, after careful consideration, HM Inspectors are satisfied that your complaint has been dealt with properly they will write with their findings to:

    • you;
    • the officer(s) you have complained about;
    • the Chief Constable.
    What happens if HM Inspectors decide that my complaint requires to be reconsidered?

    HM Inspectors will:

    • direct the Chief Constable to reconsider the case, and may;
    • instruct the Chief Constable to take account of any further information which might have come to light after your original complaint was made.

    If this happens HM Inspectors will tell you and the officer(s) you have complained about.

    What happens when my complaint has been reconsidered by the Chief Constable?

    The Chief Constable will report the outcome to HM Inspectors.

    HM Inspectors will then tell:

    • you;
    • the officer(s) concerned;

    what the Chief Constable has decided and how they view the way in which the reconsideration of your complaint has been carried out.

    What is the limit of HM Inspectors' power to investigate?

    HM Inspectors' powers extend only to examining how the complaint was originally investigated by the force concerned. This includes an independent examination by HM Lay Inspector of Constabulary. The investigation does not extend to re-interviewing witnesses, or to reviewing decisions of the Regional Procurator Fiscal or the courts.

    What happens if I want to withdraw my complaint?

    Wherever possible you should speak to the officer to whom you first made your complaint. Alternatively, you can notify the Chief Constable or HM Inspectors if you have approached them. If your complaint has led to criminal proceedings against any officer any decision to continue with those proceedings will rest with the Regional Procurator Fiscal.

    How do I complain about a senior police officer?

    If you wish to make a complaint about an Assistant Chief Constable, Deputy Chief Constable or Chief Constable, you should contact the relevant police authority for the force concerned. Details of who and where to write to are available in local libraries, Citizens Advice Bureaux, by contacting HMIC and by contacting the force concerned.

    Who makes sure that complaints are dealt with properly?

    Both the police authorities and Her Majesty's Inspectors of Constabulary for Scotland have to keep themselves informed as to how complaints made about police officers are investigated and dealt with.

    The Chief Constable will give the police authority the information it needs to check that complaints are being dealt with properly. Each Chief Constable also gives details in an annual report to the police authority of how complaints made about officers are dealt with.

    As described alongside, Her Majesty's Inspectors of Constabulary have the further power in certain circumstances to direct Chief Constables to reconsider the complaints made by members of
    the public.

    An assessment of how complaints are dealt with is contained in reports published by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary for Scotland on the inspection of individual forces, and in the annual report of the Inspectorate.

    Malicious complaints

    Anyone who knowingly makes a false complaint about a police officer(s) may be prosecuted by the Procurator Fiscal (and may be liable to civil action by the officer complained about).

    This leaflet is intended to help you understand how you can make a complaint against a police officer in Scotland. Details may change following the Scottish Executive consultation of the police complaint system in Scotland.

    Moreover, this leaflet does not cover every detail and should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law.