How we investigate complaints about Councillors and Board Members of Public Bodies

Find out more about how we’ll investigate your complaint in the sections below.

Stage 1 – Initial Office Assessment Toggle accordion

Normally, you should make your complaint within 12 months of the date when you became aware of the matter.

In cases where the incident(s) occurred more than 12 months prior to your complaint, we will take into consideration the resources required to investigate and the public interest in pursuing the matter.

We will contact you to acknowledge receipt of your complaint. Your complaint will be logged to our case management system and passed to the Duty Investigating Officer. The Duty Investigating Officer will review your complaint and decide whether we can investigate. There are three potential outcomes. The Duty Investigating Officer may, if the Commissioner agrees:

  1. write to you for further information,
  2. consider your complaint relevant and admissible and pass it to an Investigating Officer for full investigation,
  3. may find it neither relevant or admissible and close your complaint.

Where we have requested further information, this will be added to your original complaint. The Duty Investigating Officer will then, with the agreement of the Commissioner, decide if the complaint can be passed on for full investigation or closed at this stage. 

If the complaint is closed, we will write to you explaining why.

Stage 2 – Investigation Toggle accordion

If your complaint progresses to full investigation, we will allocate your case to an Investigating Officer. Normally, we will write to the person you have complained about, senior people in the council (or public body), and any other person who can help. We’ll ask them to provide further information or documents.  We’ll also share a copy of your complaint with them, along with any supporting documentation you have provided. We’ll remove the personal details of third parties from these documents before sharing them. In appropriate cases, your name may be withheld.

The Investigating Officer may need to interview witnesses.  Interviews are conducted informally (usually with another Investigating Officer present). Anyone being interviewed can bring along another person for support. There are more details in our witness policy. If necessary, we can compel witnesses to attend and to produce documents. 

Stage 2 is expected to take no longer than 3 months. However, some factors can delay progress. If the investigation is likely to take longer, we will inform you. We’ll also let the Standards Commission for Scotland know as well as the council (or public body) and the councillor or board member you’ve complained about. 

Stage 3 – Decision Toggle accordion

At the end of the investigation, the Commissioner consider the available evidence. She will decide whether or not this indicates there has been a breach of the Codes of Conduct. This conclusion will be based on the balance of probability.

If the Commissioner decides there has not been a breach, we will write to you and the person you have complained about informing you of this and giving the reasons for our decision. We’ll also write to the council or public body. 

In cases where no breach is found, the Commissioner’s decision is final and there is no right of appeal.

If the Commissioner’s opinion is that there has been breach, we will write a report outlining the details. The councillor or board member you have complained about must have a chance to see the draft report and to suggest corrections. These suggestions will be considered. 

Once the report is finalised, we will submit it to the Standards Commission for Scotland.  The Standards Commission may:

  • take no further action
  • hold a public Hearing or 
  • ask us to investigate further. 

We will also send it to the person you complained about and the council or public body. We will write to you to let you know we have done this.

Some serious breaches of the Code may be criminal offences. In these cases, we will pass the matter over to the police or to the Procurator Fiscal to investigate. Once their investigations are complete, we can resume ours.

What happens next? Toggle accordion

At this point our investigation is completed and it is a matter for the Standards Commission for Scotland to decide whether to:

  • ask us to investigate further
  • hold a public hearing or
  • take no action.

Ultimately, it is the Standards Commission who decides whether or not there has been a breach of the Codes of Conduct. The Standards Commission also decides the penalties for any breach.

You can find out more about what happens on their website, Standards Commission for Scotland.

Withdrawing a Complaint Toggle accordion

You may decide, at some point, to withdraw your complaint.  Once a complaint has been made, it is for us to decide whether to end or to continue an investigation. Please write to us with the request to withdraw your complaint, giving as much detail as possible.  When reaching our decision, we will take into account:

  • your request,
  • the stage the investigation has reached,
  • the public interest in ending or concluding our investigations and
  • the wishes of any other person who has complained about the conduct in question.