What is a Procurator Fiscal and what do they do?
In Scotland, The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) is responsible for investigating deaths when:
- a person passes away suddenly,
- there is a reason to think the death may not be a result of natural causes,
- or an inquiry is needed for some other reason
What does a Procurator Fiscal do?
Deaths are usually reported to the Procurator Fiscal in Scotland by the police following an initial criminal investigation. A report is submitted to the Procurator Fiscal, who decides whether to take any action in relation to the case. Where there is enough evidence, the Procurator Fiscal will consider additional factors to determine whether criminal proceedings should take place.
The Procurator Fiscal will take into account:
- The seriousness of the offence
- The length of time since the offence took place
- The interests of the victim and other witnesses
- The age of the offender, any previous convictions and other relevant sociological factors
- Local community interests or general public concern
If a Procurator Fiscal decides to take no criminal proceedings in a case, an explanation can be provided.
What you need to do during the investigation
Helping during a Procurator Fiscal investigation is very important, and it’s your responsibility to co-operate fully and provide any information that is relevant to the proceedings.
If you have any concerns or worries about the death of a loved one, please inform the Procurator Fiscal’s office. It’s important that you do not share any confidential information you are told during the investigation.
What happens during a post-mortem?
In some cases, a Procurator Fiscal may decide a post-mortem is needed to find out how the person died. Post-mortems include an external and internal examination of a body after death and are typically carried out by pathologists.
In Scotland, post-mortem examinations are usually carried out within 1-3 working days of death occurring. If a post-mortem examination shows that the person who has passed died of natural causes, the coroner will issue you with paperwork to register the death. You will usually be able to view your loved one after a post-mortem, should you wish to do so.
However, if the results of a post-mortem show an unnatural or unknown cause of death, the Procurator Fiscal may open a Fatal Accident Inquiry.
What happens during a Fatal Accident Inquiry?
Unlike England, Wales and Northern Ireland, there is no system of coroner’s inquests. Accidental, sudden or unexplained deaths are investigated privately for the local crown agent by the Procurator Fiscal.
A Fatal Accident Inquiry is a public examination of the circumstances of a death that is conducted before a sheriff. During the inquiry, the Procurator Fiscal reports evidence to establish the circumstances of the death, and to consider what steps (if any) might be taken to prevent other deaths under similar circumstances.
Will the funeral be delayed?
Fatal Accident Inquiries are held relatively rarely, but when they are, we understand how distressing it can be for family and friends arranging the funeral – especially if you wish to say goodbye to help with the grieving process.
Whilst a post-mortem examination can delay funeral arrangements, a Fatal Accident Inquiry should not unduly delay your loved one’s funeral.