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Our Role in Detail

Welcome to the area of our site giving information about our roles and responsibilities.

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) is responsible for the prosecution of crime in Scotland, the investigation of sudden or suspicious deaths and complaints of criminal conduct by police officers on duty. We work closely with our partners in the criminal justice system to help make Scotland a safer place.

Videos: The Role of Prosecutors, including a BSL version 


For further information regarding the Law Officers and Crown agent please see the Who we are page.

We hope that you will find the information useful, but if there is anything else you would like to know, please do not hesitate to contact us.


The police (or other Specialist Reporting Agencies, e.g. Customs and Excise) carry out an initial crime investigation and submit a report to the local Procurator Fiscal

The Procurator Fiscal considers this report and decides whether to take any action in relation to this case. This decision is taken in the public interest.Where there is enough evidence in the case, the Procurator Fiscal will consider a number of additional factors when deciding whether criminal proceedings should take place. These are set out in full in our Prosecution Code, but include:

  • Seriousness of the offence
  • Length of time since the offence took place
  • Interests of the victim and other witnesses
  • Age of the offender, any previous convictions and other relevant factors
  • Local community interests or general public concern
  • Any other factors at their discretion, according to the facts and circumstances of the case
  • Victims
Where a Procurator Fiscal decides to take no criminal proceedings in a case or to accept an adjusted plea of guilty, the victim can ask for an explanation of the decision and this will be provided.

  • Accused persons
It is not the policy of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service to automatically inform accused persons where a decision is taken not to take court action. It is, however, open to an accused person who has been reported for alleged offences to contact the Procurator Fiscal's office, either directly or through their lawyer, to enquire as to the decision of the Procurator Fiscal. In taking this decision, the Procurator Fiscal will consider if there is sufficient evidence in the case. If there is sufficient evidence, the Procurator Fiscal will then decide what action is appropriate, for example, to prosecute, offer a direct measure (such as a fiscal fine) or to take no action in the case. The Procurator Fiscal considers a number of factors in coming to this decision. (As outlined above) In cases which will be considered by a jury, the Procurator Fiscal will interview witnesses and gather and review the forensic and other evidence before a decision to prosecute is taken. S/He will then make a report to Crown Counsel to take a decision on whether to prosecute.

COPFS independently investigates criminal allegations (including anti-corruption cases) made against Police Officers in Scotland acting in the course of their duty.

Making a complaint about a police officer

Directly to Police Scotland

Complaints or allegations against police officers should be made directly to Police Scotland. The process for making a complaint can be found on the Police Service of Scotland website. Police Scotland is best placed to receive, record, assess and allocate complaints, as well as track the outcomes. Reporting directly to Police Scotland remains the most effective manner of reporting a criminal allegation.

Reporting to COPFS

We recognise that on some occasions a complainer’s relationship with the Police Service of Scotland will have deteriorated to the extent that there is a fundamental lack of trust or confidence that the complaint will be properly advanced. In these circumstances a criminal allegation against an on-duty police officer can be made directly to COPFS. Only reports of criminal allegations against on duty police officers should be made directly to COPFS. This means where you believe a police officer has committed a criminal offence while at work.Only new criminal allegations that have not previously been reported to the Police Service of Scotland should be reported to us in this way.

How we investigate complaints

The Criminal Allegations Against the Police Division (CAAPD) is a specialist division within COPFS that investigate allegations against on-duty police officers. All allegations reported to COPFS will be thoroughly investigated.We will refer the complaint to Professional Standards Department (PSD) of the Police Service of Scotland for further consideration and, where appropriate, investigation.We may also instruct further investigation by the Professional Standards Department (PSD) of the Police Service of Scotland (Police Scotland) or by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC).

Complainers' involvement

Where a complaint results in the submission of a report to CAAPD the person making the allegation will also participate in the investigation, either by being given the opportunity to review and amend their statement about the incident or by being interviewed by a member of CAAPD.The investigation will always remain under the control of COPFS.

Outcome of the investigation

Sufficient evidence

Where there is sufficient evidence, a report will be submitted by COPFS to Crown Counsel. Crown Counsel will then decide if there is sufficient credible, reliable and admissible evidence, and if proceedings are in the public interest, before deciding whether or not to bring a criminal case against the police officer.

Make a complaint

More information about making a complaint to COPFS about a police officer can be found on our page contact us page.
In some less serious cases, although the Procurator Fiscal may consider that it is in the public interest to take action, prosecution may not be the most appropriate course of action. In those cases there are a number of direct measures available.
Under Scots law, the Department must prepare the prosecution in the most serious custody cases under one of the strictest legal time limits in the world. The indictment, which details the charges which the accused will face, must be served on him within 80 days of the accused being fully committed in custody.
Where the proceedings are taken before a jury in the Sheriff Court, the trial must start within 110 days of full committal. A First Diet must take place not less than 10 days before the trial. That calling of the case gives the Sheriff an opportunity to ascertain the state of preparation of the parties generally, and he will only allow the matter to proceed to trial when the parties are ready.
The procedure and time limits which apply are slightly different in High Court cases. There, the next step after full committal is the preliminary hearing which must occur within 110 days from the point of full committal. This Hearing gives the judge, among other things, a chance to ascertain the state of preparation of the parties, and he will only allow the matter to proceed to trial when the parties are ready. As with the time limits in Sheriff court cases, this helps to provide a degree of certainty as to when the trial will take place and avoids witnesses turning up at court only to find that the trial has been adjourned to another date. The trial in custody cases must begin within 140 days.
The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) works closely with Police Scotland.

The roles of COPFS and the police are complementary, and regular dialogue and co-operation enables problems and issues to be dealt with efficiently and effectively.

The Procurator Fiscal in Scotland has an investigative role and can provide instructions and directions to the police in connection with their investigations. This happens particularly in serious cases, where the police work very closely with the Procurator Fiscal. In cases of sudden, suspicious and unexplained deaths, the Procurator Fiscal has responsibility during the early stages of the investigation to arrange a post mortem examination by forensic pathologists.