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 to try and 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.
If a suspect is arrested
When the police think someone may have 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 can't 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 shouldn't be kept in police custody unless there's a good reason to do so.
If you know information about why the accused shouldn't 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, unless the procurator fiscal can argue why they shouldn't get bail, for example:
- it's likely the accused will commit more crimes
- it's likely they won't 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 – like 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.
If the police can't find the suspect
Sometimes no suspect is found, or there's not enough evidence for the police to take further action.
The police will notify you if this is the case, or alternatively 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 can't 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 – a document from the court – so the 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.