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Police investigation

After you report a crime, the police will decide if they can investigate the case.

Investigations are when the police take witness statements and gather all the evidence. This is to try to establish the facts of a crime and charge a suspect.

They can take a long time. For example if forensic examinations or cybercrime enquiries are involved. Some crimes are never detected or solved.

While the police are investigating what happened, you might not hear anything for a while.

As a victim or witness, you have the right to ask for information about your case. There are organisations that can give you support if you need it.

If a suspect is arrested

When the police think someone has committed a crime, they'll usually be taken to a police station, held in custody and questioned.

A suspect can be kept in police custody for up to 12 hours before they are released or charged with the crime. Sometimes this can be extended by another 12 hours.

The police have powers to take:

  • photographs of the person
  • finger prints and DNA

The police can release a suspect while they continue investigating the crime. They can be arrested more than once for the same offence. But these separate arrest periods cannot last longer than 12 hours.

The suspect might be given rules they must stick to on release. For example, not going to a certain place or speaking to certain people. This is called investigative liberation. If a suspect breaks any of their conditions they can be arrested.

If a suspect is charged

If the police have enough evidence to charge the suspect, they'll decide if:

  • they can be released until their first court hearing – they may need to agree to follow certain rules, known as an 'undertaking'
  • they can be released while the procurator fiscal decides whether the case will go to court
  • they'll be kept in police custody until their court hearing – this will be the next day unless it is a weekend or public holiday
  • they'll be given a direct measure – like a warning or fine
  • no further action will be made against them

Release of suspects

The law says that someone is innocent until proven guilty. This means they should not be kept in police custody unless there's a good reason to do so.

If you know information about why the accused should not be released from custody, let the police know right away. It's important the police know as much information as possible.

Why a suspect may not be released

The police might not release someone if they think:

  • they'll commit more crimes
  • they're a risk to an individual
  • they're a risk to the public

Bail and remand at court

If the accused appears in court they're entitled to apply for bail. They'll be released until the trial. This is unless the procurator fiscal can argue why they should not get bail, for example:

  • it's likely the accused will commit more crimes
  • it's likely they will not come back for the trial
  • they're a danger to witnesses or other members of the public

Bail is when a person is released from custody by a court. They'll have to agree to certain conditions before they're released, like promising to go to court or not committing any other crimes.

If you're worried about a suspect being released

Tell the procurator fiscal, your police contact or your lawyer about any concerns you have about someone being released. There may be some special conditions put on their bail. For example, not being allowed to go to a particular place.

Suspects released on bail will be told not to behave in a way that causes any alarm or distress to you or other witnesses.

Tell the police right away if a suspect approaches or bothers you. The police can arrest the person as they're breaking the conditions of their bail.

If the police cannot find the suspect

Sometimes no suspect is found or there's not enough evidence for the police to take further action.

The police will tell you if this is the case. Or you can contact them and ask for an update on the investigation.

You can still get support if you're affected by crime.

If the police have enough information to send a report to the procurator fiscal, but they cannot find the accused person, they can give a report for warrant to the procurator fiscal.

If the procurator fiscal decides there's enough evidence, a judge can ask for a warrant. This is a document from the court so accused is arrested and brought to court to face the charges against them.

Alternatives to prosecution

The police can issue fines or warnings for some offences without referring the case to the procurator fiscal.

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