COPFS is the sole prosecuting authority in Scotland and, on behalf of the Lord Advocate, decides in every case whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute. COPFS also has responsibility, on behalf of the Lord Advocate, to investigate all sudden and unexplained deaths in Scotland. Decisions in relation to prosecutions and sudden deaths are always taken by COPFS following a full and thorough investigation by other organisations, such as the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities, which have the responsibility and power to carry out the appropriate investigation.
Regardless of which authority is carrying out the investigation, COPFS retains the overall responsibility to ensure that it is thorough, effective and fair.
Following the investigation, the decision is taken by Crown Counsel, senior independent prosecutors who act on behalf of the Lord Advocate.
When the investigation relates to a serious matter involving the police, it is carried out under the direction of COPFS by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC).
PIRC was established in 2013 as part of the reform of Scottish policing and is independent of Police Scotland. Its powers to carry out investigations are set out in the Police, Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2006 as amended by the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012.
The Crown’s authority to direct that the PIRC carry out an investigation derives from sections 33A and 41A of the 2006 Act.
Section 33A specifies that the general functions of the PIRC include investigating, when directed to do so by the appropriate prosecutor, the circumstances in which a police officer may have committed an offence and the circumstances of any death involving a police officer.
Section 41A makes it clear that PIRC, in carrying out its investigation, must comply with any lawful instruction from the appropriate prosecutor.
Paragraph 7A of Schedule 4 to the 2006 Act provides that a police officer seconded to PIRC has all the powers and privileges of a constable in Scotland and is subject to the direction of PIRC.
Paragraph 7B of Schedule 4 to the 2006 Act provides that a PIRC investigator has all the powers and privileges of a constable in Scotland.
In all cases investigated by PIRC, COPFS retains the responsibility to ensure that the investigation has been thoroughly and effectively carried out. Where it is clear that further enquiries are needed in order to achieve this then the Crown will always instruct that they be carried out