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COPFS

FOI

Response and Information Unit

Q. What should I do if I want to make a complaint or provide feedback about COPFS?

A. There are various ways to get in touch. You can contact us in person at your local Procurator Fiscal’s office, by telephoning our National Enquiry Point on 01389 739 557, or in writing by emailing us at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by writing to Response and Information Unit, Crown Office, 25 Chambers Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1LA.

Q. Who can provide feedback?

A. Any individual or organisation who has used COPFS. A relative, friend, or care provider can also provide feedback on behalf of someone who has used our service. Please note that you will be required to provide signed consent if you are complaining on behalf of someone.

Q. What happens after we receive your feedback?

A. We listen to what you have said and to try to resolve any issues as quickly as possible. We can also learn from your experience and improve our service, policies and procedures for others.

Q. Will I be treated differently if I make a complaint?

A. No. COPFS welcomes your feedback.

Q. Who will deal with my complaint?

A. If it is not resolved straight away, it will be passed to our Response and Information Unit (RIU). 

Q. Are the investigators independent?

A. Staff in the Response and Information Unit are trained in handling complaints. All complaints are treated impartially.

Q. How long does the complaints process take?

A. You should contact us as soon as the matter occurs. We aim to resolve issues as quickly as possible. If a complaint is made, we will acknowledge receipt within three working days and provide a full response within 20 working days.

Q. Is there a time limit on raising my complaint?

A. Complaints should be made as soon as possible. We will not normally consider a complaint that is more than six months old.

Q. Will I be given updates on the progress of my complaint?

A. If we are unable to give a full response, we will keep you informed of progress within 20 working days, and then every 20 working days until a full response is provided.

Q. Can I appeal against the decision?

A. There is no further stage of appeal within COPFS. If a complaint has passed through our Quick Resolution procedure and our complaints process, and you are not happy with how we have handled your complaint you can raise that with the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman. This should be done within a year of the issue that caused the complaint. The Ombudsman cannot look at how and why legal decisions were taken.

Our role in Investigating Deaths

Q. Why have I been contacted by the procurator fiscal about the death of my relative?

A. Most sudden and unexplained deaths are reported to the fiscal because a doctor is unsure of the exact cause of death and so cannot issue a death certificate. This includes any death that the doctor considers unexpected or clinically unexplained after taking account of previous or recent medical history. Early enquiries by specialist staff at the COPFS Scottish Fatalities Investigation Unit (SFIU) usually establish that death was due to natural causes. Fiscals also investigate suspicious deaths. In these less common cases staff will first tell the police to investigate the suspicious circumstances and then decide if there should be a criminal prosecution. The COPFS Victim Information and Advice service may be able to give help and support to bereaved relatives.

Q. What is a fatal accident inquiry?

A. A fatal accident inquiry, or FAI, is a type of court hearing. A FAI must take place when someone dies in custody in prison or a police station or a death is caused by an accident at work. FAIs can be held in other circumstances if it is thought to be in the public interest. The aim is to prevent future deaths or injuries.

Q. Why have I been asked to go to the mortuary to see my relative’s body?

A. Relatives are sometimes asked to identify the deceased before a post-mortem examination is carried out. This can be upsetting but it is a necessary part of the investigation of the death. Everything is done to help relatives through this process. The COPFS Victim Information and Advice service may be able to give help and support.

Q. Why is a post-mortem being held?

A. Post-mortem examinations are not necessary if a doctor can certify the cause of a death. But sometimes they must be carried out to help establish the cause of a sudden, unexplained or suspicious death. Post-mortem examinations are more likely in certain circumstances, such as the sudden or unexplained death of a child. The permission of the nearest relatives is not needed to carry out an examination. So far as possible, cultural and religious traditions and sensitivities are respected. The COPFS Victim Information and Advice service may be able to give help and support.

Q. Is that the same as a hospital post-mortem?

A. No, hospital post-mortem examinations are carried out for medical purposes, for example, to help with medical training or for research. Unlike post-mortem examinations ordered by the procurator fiscal, the permission of the nearest relatives is needed for hospital post-mortem examinations.

Q. I have been told that small tissue and blood samples will have to be taken from my relative’s body – why is this necessary?

A. Sometimes blood and tissue samples are taken for more detailed examination during an investigation. This scientific analysis can take several weeks. Samples are disposed of sensitively.

Q. I have been told that an organ has been removed from my relative’s body – why is this necessary?

A. In a very small number of cases, it is necessary to remove an organ so that more detailed examination can take place. This examination may take several weeks. The procurator fiscal will contact you to explain the options open to you. If an organ has been retained, you will be asked to decide how you want the organ to be treated when the tests are completed.

Q. My relative wanted her organs donated – will this be possible?

A. Every effort will be made to respect her wishes, though it may not be possible if she died in suspicious circumstances.

Q. When can I get the death certificate?

A. If a post-mortem examination is held, the death certificate will be issued by the pathologist. The funeral can take place after the death certificate is issued. A copy of the post-mortem examination report, which usually gives the cause of death, can also be requested.

Q. Can I check a cause of death?

A. The cause of death is given on the medical certificate, which is completed by a doctor and taken to the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Sometimes, the medical certificate will be completed only after any investigations or proceedings have taken place.

Q. Will a coroner investigate the sudden and unexplained death of my relative?

A. The coroner system operates in England and Wales rather than Scotland. The only circumstances in which a coroner may become involved is where the deceased was ordinarily resident in England and his/her body is sent back to England for burial or cremation. In these circumstance the receiving coroner will have jurisdiction due to the presence of a body within their geographical area, and will be required to investigate the death. Where the death has resulted from an accident in Scotland which is being investigated by the Procurator Fiscal, the coroner will ask the Fiscal for information, and in the majority of cases await the outcome of the Fiscals investigations. 

Charged with an offence

Q. I have a question about my fine – can you help?

A. If you have any questions about fines, you should contact the Scottish Court Service.

Q. Can you tell me what I have been charged with?

A. Details of charges should be on any correspondence you have received. If not, you should write or email the procurator fiscal office on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Q. What is happening to my case?

A. You should get the police reference number from the police and write a letter to the procurator fiscal with any questions, quoting the police reference number. The fiscal cannot discuss anything without a police report, which can take at least 28 days to arrive.

Q. I want to change my bail conditions/details – can you help?

A. If you have any questions about bail, you should contact the Scottish Court Service.

Q. What happens if I don’t come to court?

A. You can send your plea to the court using the reply form on your complaint, or ask a solicitor to act on your behalf. If you don’t go to court in other circumstances, you may be ordered to appear personally or a warrant could be issued for your arrest. You should speak to a solicitor.

Q. What happens if there is a warrant for my arrest?

A. You must go to your nearest police office.

Q. Can I get a solicitor at the court?

A. Maybe, but there is a risk that no solicitor will be available at the court. If you really want a solicitor, you should contact one in advance.

Q. What is a direct measure? Does it mean I have a criminal conviction?

A. In some less serious cases, the fiscal can take what are called direct measures. These include: a written or verbal warning by the fiscal; a fine, or fixed penalty conditional offer, of between £50 and £300; a fixed penalty for less serious road traffic offences, sometimes also with penalty points; payment of compensation of up to £5,000 to someone who has suffered monetary loss, personal loss, alarm or distress; referral for specialist support or treatment; and, other diversions from prosecution such as reparation and mediation. You do not receive a criminal conviction.

Q. How do I get back property taken during the investigation?

A. Property is returned by the police once the case is finished and the appeal period has passed, which is usually around six to eight weeks.

Q. How do I make a complaint about COPFS?

A. COPFS has a well-established and rigorous complaints procedure. Full information is available on our website

Q. How do I make a complaint about a police officer?

A. You can contact COPFS if it is a complaint about the criminal conduct of a police officer. Otherwise, you should contact the Police Service of Scotland/Police Investigations and Review Commissioner.

Q: English isn’t my first language, will there be an interpreter at court to help me?

A: Yes – if you need an interpreter, either for a spoken language or for British Sign Language, arrangements will be made to ensure that an interpreter will be at court to help you. We will need to know your exact language and dialect so that a suitable interpreter can be arranged for you

Q: I can’t read English documents very well because English isn’t my first language, can you send me a written translation of your documents?

A: We will translate all essential COPFS documents for you – this includes details of the charge against you and our Summary of Evidence. If you have any queries about our translation provisions, please contact our Enquiry Point on 01389 739 557.

Witnesses

Q. Why have I received a letter asking me to provide my availability to attend court?

A. You may have received a letter from us asking you to give us information on your availability to attend court to give evidence. This is either because you could be cited to attend court to give evidence in a High Court case or because your details have been provided to us as someone who may need to give evidence in a possible Sheriff and Jury case. It is important that you provide us with the information we have asked for to allow the court to do its best to avoid setting dates for a trial which do not suit the witnesses. Please note however, it is not always possible for the court to set dates which suit all the witnesses in a case. If you do not provide us with your availability when requested we may need to ask the police to contact you directly for the information.

If you have any questions about the letter please contact us at 0844 561 3382 (from a landline) or 0141 849 5919 (from a mobile).

Q. I’ve been asked to give evidence – what does this mean?

A. Witnesses play an essential part in the justice system, providing important information about court cases.

Q. Do I have to attend if I have been asked to give evidence?

A. If you have received a witness citation, you must attend. All witnesses must give evidence in court rather than have their statements read out. Failing to attend may result in a warrant being issued for your arrest. The procurator fiscal or police will contact you if you are no longer needed to give evidence. Advice, assistance and support services are available for witnesses. Special arrangements can sometimes be made for elderly, disabled or vulnerable witnesses. You can also bring someone to sit in the witness room with you when you come to court. Interpreters can be arranged if English is not your first language.

Q. What happens if I can’t remember anything?

A. The questions asked by the lawyers in court should help refresh your memory. Listen carefully, take your time to answer and say if you do not understand the question or do not know the answer. Speak slowly and clearly. Witnesses must tell the truth at all times and may face criminal charges if they do not.

Q. Will I see the accused in court?

A. To ensure justice is done, it is important for the accused to attend the court hearing. Some special measures can be taken to help vulnerable witnesses, including all children, such as giving evidence from behind a screen in the courtroom or by a television link, or having a support person with you in court. You will only be in the same room as the accused when you are giving evidence.

Q. How long will I be in court?

A. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing exactly how long a case will last. The court staff will keep you informed about the progress of your case.

Q. What if I am unwell?

A. You need to inform the Procurator Fiscal in advance and supply a medical certificate and/or a letter from your doctor explaining that you are unwell. This is sometimes called a “soul and conscience” letter.

Q. What happens if I cannot attend because I’m on holiday?

A. You should send or email copies of any booking confirmation and details of the case you are involved in to the procurator fiscal.

Q. Can I claim expenses for attending court as a witness?

A. Yes – using the form on the back of your citation, you can claim expenses for travelling to and from the court and an allowance for meals. Cash payments are only made in cases of genuine hardship or emergency. Exceptional costs such as taxi fares, air travel and overnight accommodation must by approved by the procurator fiscal in advance. If you have lost your citation, go to the procurator fiscal’s after giving evidence and you will be issued with a duplicate.

Q. What if I am working?

A. Claims can be made for loss of earnings for witnesses who are employed and self-employed. Let your employer know in advance that you have been asked to give evidence. By law, your employer must release you for the duration of the trial.

Q. Are there childcare facilities in court buildings?

A. Unfortunately, there are no childcare facilities but prosecution witnesses can claim expenses for childcare and babysitting at fixed rates. Children are not allowed in court unless they are giving evidence as a witness.

Q. Can I breastfeed in court?

A. In Scotland, it is an offence to stop anyone breastfeeding in a public place

Q. How should I dress and behave in court?

A. You should wear clothes that are comfortable. Most witnesses dress smartly. You should not disrupt the proceedings in court but can speak to the Sheriff when asked to do so. Judges and sheriffs are addressed as My Lord or My Lady.

Q. How do I get back property taken during the investigation?

A. Property is returned by the police once the case is finished and the appeal period has passed, which is usually around six to eight weeks.

Q. How do I make a complaint about COPFS?

A. COPFS has a well-established and rigorous complaints procedure. Full information is available on our website.

Q. How do I change my contact details?

A. You should write or email the procurator fiscal, quoting the reference number of the case you are involved in.

Q: English isn’t my first language, will there be an interpreter at court to help me?

A: Yes – if you need an interpreter, either for a spoken language or for British Sign Language, arrangements will be made to ensure that an interpreter will be at court to help you. We will need to know your exact language and dialect so that a suitable interpreter can be arranged for you.

Q: I can’t read English documents very well because English isn’t my first language, can you send me a written translation of your documents?

A: Yes, once we are made aware that you need translated versions of the documents we send you, we will translate all documents that we send to you. If you have any queries about our translation provisions, please contact our Enquiry Point on 01389 739 557.

Victims

 

Q. Someone has been charged with committing a crime against me but I am worried that he will be released from custody – what can I do?

A. Sometimes an accused is kept in prison until the trial but most are released on bail. You should tell the police and the procurator fiscal about any concerns. The fiscal may be able to ask the court for special conditions to be imposed if bail is granted, such as not approaching or contacting you.

Q. The police can’t find the person who committed a crime against me – what happens now?

A. If there is enough evidence, the procurator fiscal can go to a Sheriff and ask for a warrant to be granted so that the accused can be arrested and brought to court.

Q. I have been asked to give evidence – do I have to?

A. Depending on the circumstances, some victims of crime are asked to give evidence. If you have received a witness citation, you must attend. All witnesses must give evidence in court rather than have their statements read out. Failing to attend may result in a warrant being issued for your arrest. The procurator fiscal or police will contact you if you are no longer needed to give evidence. Witnesses play an essential part in the justice system, providing important information about court cases. Advice, assistance and support services are available. Special arrangements can sometimes be made for elderly, disabled or vulnerable witnesses. You can also bring someone with you when you come to court. Interpreters can be arranged if English is not your first language. The accused does not get to see your statement.

Q. Can I drop the charges against the person accused of the crime?

A. The decision to charge someone with a crime is made independently by the procurator fiscal if enough evidence is available, taking into account the wider public interest. If you have any concerns, you should contact the fiscal.

Q. Will I see the accused in court?

A. To ensure justice is done, it is important for the accused to attend the court hearing. Some special measures can be taken to help vulnerable witnesses, including all children, such as giving evidence from behind a screen in the courtroom or by a television link, or having a support person with you in court. You will only be in the same room as the accused when you are giving evidence.

Q. How long will I be in court?

A. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing exactly how long a case will last. The court staff will keep you informed about the progress of your case.

Q. Do I need a lawyer?

A. COPFS prosecutes crime in the public interest rather than representing anyone involved in a case. Depending on the circumstances of the case, some victims will have a lawyer. COPFS operates the Victim Information and Advice service to give help and support to victims.

Q. What is a victim statement?

A. Victims or relatives of serious crimes are given the opportunity to make a written statement telling the court about the physical, emotional or financial impact of the crime. The judge must take the statement into account when deciding on a sentence. Help is available if you want to make a statement, for instance, from the COPFS Victim Information and Advice service.

Q. Will my personal details, such as my address, be read out in court?

A. Some victims can ask for their address not to be read out in court if they do not want the accused to know where they live, though it may have to be referred to if it is where the crime took place.

Q. Will a police officer be in court?

A. Only those giving evidence, though security officers are present during court hearings.

Q. The accused has been imprisoned but I don’t know where – can you tell me?

A. You should contact the Scottish Prison Service for any information about prisoners.

Q. My case isn’t being dealt with by my local procurator fiscal’s office – why?

A. It is probably being dealt with by specialist fiscals due to the type of offence that has alleged to have taken place. The specialist fiscals are experts at dealing with particular types of cases.

Q: English isn’t my first language, will there be an interpreter at court to help me?

A: Yes – if you need an interpreter, either for a spoken language or for British Sign Language, arrangements will be made to ensure that an interpreter will be at court to help you. We will need to know your exact language and dialect so that a suitable interpreter can be arranged for you.

Q: I can’t read English documents very well because English isn’t my first language, can you send me a written translation of your documents?

A: Yes, once we are made aware that you need translated versions of the documents we send you, we will translate all documents that we send to you. If you have any queries about our translation provisions, please contact our Enquiry Point on 01389 739 557.

About COPFS

Q. What is the procurator fiscal?

A. Fiscals are based throughout Scotland. They are legally qualified civil servants who receive reports about crimes from the police and others and then decide what action to take in the public interest, including whether to prosecute someone. They also look into deaths that need further explanation and investigate allegations of criminal conduct against police officers. The Crown Office refers to the buildings and staff at our headquarters in Edinburgh city centre.

Q. Is the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service connected to the courts or the police?

A. COPFS is Scotland’s sole prosecuting service, independent of the police and the courts. We are a department of the Scottish Government but decisions about criminal prosecutions and the investigation of deaths are taken independently of any other person. We work closely with others, such as the courts and the police, to ensure the criminal justice system is fair and effective.

Q. Is COPFS the same as the Crown Prosecution Service?

A. The Crown Prosecution Service, or CPS, is responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by the police in England and Wales.

Q. Who are the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor General?

A. The Lord Advocate is the ministerial head of COPFS. He is the senior of the two Law Officers, along with the Solicitor General for Scotland. Both are appointed by the Queen on the recommendation of the First Minister, with the agreement of the Scottish Parliament. The Lord Advocate is a member of the Scottish Government as principal legal adviser, but decisions by him about criminal prosecutions and the investigation of deaths are taken independently of any other person. In that way, he is not subject to the ordinary rules about collective ministerial decisions.

Q. What is an advocate depute?

A. Advocate deputes are experienced prosecutors appointed by the Lord Advocate. They make decisions in serious cases and fatal accident inquiries, also advising procurators fiscal on complex or sensitive issues.

Q. Prosecutions are said to be taken in the “public interest” – what does this mean?

A. In considering the public interest, prosecutors take a number of factors into account, including the interests of the victim, the accused and the wider community. This can involve competing interests and will vary with every case. As a result, assessment of the public interest involves careful consideration of all factors.

Q. How do I make a complaint about a police officer?

A. You can contact COPFS if it is a complaint about the criminal conduct of a police officer. Otherwise, you should contact the Police Scotland/Police Investigations and Review Commissioner.

Q. What is the Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer?

A. The Crown Agent, who acts as the COPFS Chief Executive, also holds the office of Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer (QLTR). The QLTR administers the property of dissolved companies and people with no known relatives who die without a will. The QLTR also has responsibilities for lost and abandoned property, such as treasure trove – significant objects from Scotland’s past – found by members of the public.

Q. I have been called to take part in jury duty – can you answer my questions?

A. If you have questions about your jury service, you should contact the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service. Contact details will be on your juror’s citation and information leaflet.

Q. How do I make a complaint about the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service?

A. The function of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service is to provide administrative support to Scottish courts and to the judiciary of those courts, including the High Court of Justiciary, Court of Session, Sheriff Courts and Justice of the Peace courts, and to the Office of the Public Guardian and Accountant of Court. If you would like to make a complaint about the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service please contact them direct, we are not able to deal with these complaints. Please access the  Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service complaints and feedback web page