The police investigation
Detention and arrest of suspects
When the police think someone may have committed a crime, they can detain them in custody for up to 12 hours. Sometimes this can be extended by another 12 hours.
After this the police must release the suspect if they don't have enough evidence to arrest them. The police can still carry on investigating the crime.
When someone is arrested
Someone can be arrested after being detained, or they can be arrested right away.
The police will then have powers to take:
- photographs of the person
- finger prints and DNA
The police will decide whether to keep the person in custody until going to court the next day – this is also known as an undertaking. At court the accused is allowed to apply for bail.
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.
Custody and bail
As a victim of crime, you have the right to ask for information about your case, including if the offender is released on bail.
When someone is released from custody
Depending on the nature of the crime, a person is likely to be released from custody once they've had their photographs, fingerprints and DNA samples taken and the police:
- know who they are
- know where they live
- believe they won't be a risk to anyone
The police will prepare a report about the crime to the Procurator Fiscal, who handles prosecuting crimes in Scotland.
If the offender is a child or young person, they'll usually be referred to the Children's Reporter to consider the case and decide what action to take.
Once the person has been released, the police will send a report to the Procurator Fiscal.
Why the accused is being released from police custody
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.
Why someone might not be released from police custody
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
The person may be held in custody until the next court day – or over the weekend if they were arrested on a Friday.
When 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
If you're worried about the accused being released from police custody
Tell the Procurator Fiscal, your police contact or your lawyer about any concerns you have about someone being relased. 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 accused person
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 for some offences without referring the case to the Procurator Fiscal. These are called fixed penalty notices.