Your right to support from criminal justice agencies
Click on the links below to show more information for each heading.
The police may assign a Family Liaison Officer (FLO) to you. A FLO is a police officer trained to help bereaved people with procedures immediately following the crash and during the police investigation. If you are not assigned a FLO, a Road Policing Officer will be assigned. Your police contact will stay in contact with you and should be able to help you with immediate things such as seeing a loved one’s body and answering, where possible, questions you have about the crash. Your police contact should also be able to keep you informed of the police investigation and help you manage any contact with the media (see Section 2: Practical issues).
Best practice procedures for Family Liaison Officers or other officers who are supporting families bereaved by road crashes have been laid down by Police Scotland in its Road Death Investigation Manual. If you want to read this manual, ask your police contact.
At a later stage, your police contact will withdraw from your case and you may be introduced to a Victim Information and Advice (VIA) officer from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS). This will happen if the Procurator Fiscal is investigating the circumstances of the death and the case may result in criminal charges against someone. A VIA officer can update you about the progress of your case and help you contact other support agencies, if this is what you want.
For more information about the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), go to www.copfs.gov.uk
The Victims’ Code for Scotland provides crime victims in Scotland with a guide to their rights. It also signposts victims to sources of further help and support. An ‘easy read’ version for people with learning difficulties is available.
To read the code, go to www.mygov.scot/victims-code-for-scotland
Who needs informing about the crash right now?
The police may not know everyone who should be told right away. There may be relatives or close friends who still need informing because they don’t live with you or aren’t with you right now. You may choose to do this yourself, or ask your police contact to do it for you.
Organ and tissue donation
A donation of organs or tissue from a loved one could help save or improve another person’s life. Organ donation is only possible if a person has died in hospital, and in specific circumstances.
Tissue donation, such as skin, bone, heart valves and corneas, may be possible whether the death happened in a hospital or not. It can happen up to 24 or even 48 hours afterwards.
What happens to a loved one's body?
Seeing a loved one's body
After someone dies suddenly or unexpectedly, their body is taken to a hospital mortuary or a local authority mortuary.
You can decide whether or not to see a loved one’s body. To help you make this decision, and if you didn’t see a loved one in hospital or at the roadside before their death, you can ask your police contact or medical staff to tell you about injuries to a loved one’s body and what their body looks like.
Sometimes, the bodies of people killed in road crashes have few visible injuries because injuries are internal. Sometimes bodies are very badly damaged. If a body is badly damaged, medical staff may cover the most damaged areas with a sheet. You can ask which areas of a body will be covered or uncovered. Sometimes the whole body is very badly damaged. Sometimes a body is a different colour, due to internal bleeding or bruising.
You may choose to see a loved one's body to say goodbye. Or you may choose to remember someone as they were. The decision is yours. You can take your time to decide. If a loved one's body is in a hospital, there may be a bereavement officer or hospital chaplain who can support you at this time. You can ask if this support is available.
Touching a loved one’s body
If you decide to see a loved one’s body, you may wish to touch their body. If you want to do this, talk to your police contact or medical staff. Sometimes, bodies of people killed in road crashes are very delicate because they are damaged, or bodies should not be touched for reasons to do with a police investigation. If you touch a loved one’s body, it may help to remember their body will feel cold.
Identifying a loved one’s body
The police sometimes require a family member to identify a person who has died. If the police ask you to do this, they may ask you to identify your loved one’s body or identify them from their belongings. If you do not want to see a loved one’s body but you are asked to identify their body, ask the police if there is anyone else who could do this for you. Alternatively, you may be able to identify the body through an internal glass window (at the mortuary), or by photograph or by video recording. In rarer instances, a body is harder to identify due to injuries sustained. In this case, police may ask you to help identify a loved one through dental records or by providing a sample of their DNA (for example, from a hairbrush or toothbrush).
After someone dies on the road, there is likely to be a post-mortem examination of their body. This is a medical examination to determine the cause of death. A post mortem includes examination of body organs, tissues and fluids, and is carried out by a specialist doctor called a pathologist.
A post-mortem examination will be requested by the Procurator Fiscal (see Section 3: Criminal investigation and charges). The Procurator Fiscal investigates all sudden deaths.
In nearly all cases of death on the road, the Procurator Fiscal decides that a post-mortem examination should include surgically opening and looking inside a body. The body is then closed again. This is called an invasive autopsy. Some people have objections, for faith or other reasons, to an invasive autopsy. If you have objections, or concerns about the way it will be carried out, you should talk to the Procurator Fiscal or your police contact as soon as possible so they can take into account your views. A post-mortem examination may still be required.
Usually a post-mortem examination also includes toxicology tests. This means that the pathologist takes samples, for example from blood and urine, stomach contents, or pieces of tissue, to find out if they contain any toxic substances, such as alcohol or drugs. The samples are analysed and the results may be included in the pathologist’s report.
Very rarely, a second post-mortem examination may be carried out, if someone is charged with a crime in connection with the death, or if a criminal investigation is ongoing in relation to the circumstances of the death. This is often called a ‘defence post mortem’ as it is requested on behalf of the person accused of the crime. If this is necessary, the Procurator Fiscal or your police contact will let you know as soon as possible.
You should be informed about whether a post-mortem examination will take place. You should be told by the Procurator Fiscal, or by your police contact. For more information about post-mortem examinations, the role of the Procurator Fiscal in the investigation of deaths, and information for bereaved relatives, go to www.copfs.gov.uk and search for ‘investigating deaths’.
For more information about the Procurator Fiscal, go toSection 3: Criminal investigation and charges
Organ or tissue retention
Most post-mortem examinations involve taking small tissue samples, known as 'tissue blocks'. These are less than six millimetres thick and are embedded in wax or resin. From them, very small amounts of tissue, thinner than a hair, are placed on glass slides so they can be examined under a microscope. These slides help confirm the cause of death. Tissue samples retained from the post-mortem examination become part of the dead person's medical record. Taking tissue samples does not disfigure a body.
Rarely, a Procurator Fiscal releases a body for burial or cremation but retains organs or tissue temporarily as part of their ongoing investigation. If this occurs, the nearest relative will be informed. You can decide if any retained tissue or organs should be reunited with the body, which may mean you have to delay a burial or cremation until the investigation is over. If you proceed with a burial or cremation, any retained tissue or organs will be disposed of by the pathologist in a respectful way. The Procurator Fiscal should explain these options and discuss what you want to do.
Sometimes medical staff want to keep tissue samples for research, education or training purposes. They can only do this with the authorisation of the person who died (if they were an adult) or their nearest relative.
The law on organ and tissue retention is explained in the Human Tissue (Scotland) Act 2006. The Procurator Fiscal or the pathologist can provide more information about the law or your case.
Delays to a burial or cremation
Following the report of a death to the Procurator Fiscal, a burial or cremation can only take place once the Procurator Fiscal has given permission for the body to be released. To find out how long a post-mortem examination will take, or if you have objections to a burial or cremation being delayed, talk to your police contact or the Procurator Fiscal.
The post-mortem examination report
You are entitled to, and can ask for, a copy of a loved one's post-mortem examination report, usually for free. You may or may not want to see it. The Procurator Fiscal can arrange for it to be sent to your GP who can help explain it. Sometimes, you cannot see it until after an investigation has finished. A pathologist who carried out a post-mortem examination may also be able to meet with you. Usually this happens at the office of the Procurator Fiscal.
If a loved one died before emergency services reached them, the pathologist may be able to give you information about their death. For example, this could include how fast they lost consciousness.
Return of a loved one’s personal belongings
The police, hospital officials or mortuary staff may be holding personal belongings of a loved one who has died, such as a bag, mobile phone, clothes or jewellery. You can ask if they are holding any belongings. You may decide that you want to have all, some or none of them returned. If you are using a funeral director, you can ask them to collect any personal belongings for you when they collect the body.
Personal belongings, particularly clothes, are often damaged or blood-stained in crashes. Before deciding if you want certain belongings, you may want to ask about the condition of them.
If you want something returned that has been blood-stained, you can choose whether you want it returning just as it is, or cleaned first. Some people don’t want a loved one’s clothes cleaned because the clothes may carry the smell of that person. Some clothes are very badly damaged and you may want them cleaned or not returned at all. The police may charge you a fee for any cleaning you want them to do.
If a loved one who has died was in a vehicle, you can ask your police contact to check if any belongings are still in that vehicle, and ask for these to be returned to you.
Sometimes belongings are kept temporarily by the police because the police need them as part of their investigation. Once the police investigation and any resulting criminal prosecution are finished, these belongings can be returned if you want them.
The police and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service have produced joint guidance on the return of property kept for use as evidence, called ‘Victims' Rights – Return of Property’. To read this guidance, go to www.copfs.gov.uk/publications and click on 'Victims and witnesses'.
Many people treasure the smell of a loved one who died. You may wish to preserve their smell for a while by storing clothing they recently wore in an odour-free, zip-locked bag.
What happened in the crash?
Visiting the crash site
If you were not in the crash, you may or may not want to visit the place it happened. If you want to visit, your police contact can tell you the precise location if you do not know it, and tell you any dangers such as parking problems, lack of pedestrian access or fast traffic. They may be able to accompany you to ensure your safety and answer questions you may have about the site.
If the crash site is far away and not accessible by public transport, your police contact or someone else may be able to drive you there. You may want them to do this if you do not drive, do not feel able to drive because of the shock, or you can't drive because your vehicle was damaged in the crash.
You may or may not want to leave flowers or something else at the crash site. For information on roadside memorials, see Section 2: Practical issues.
How did a loved one die?
If you were not in the crash yourself, you may or may not want to know the details of how a loved one died. You may want to know about medical treatment given at the roadside or in a hospital, and whether a loved one said anything or was unconscious during this time.
Sometimes it is possible to meet and talk to people who provided help at the crash site, such as a paramedic or a fire officer, or members of the public who provided first aid. If you want to do this, your police contact will be able to find out if this is possible. Alternatively, your police contact may be able to ask these people questions on your behalf.
If a loved one died in hospital, you can ask to talk to doctors or nurses who provided treatment. The Patient Advice and Support Service (PASS) can help you do this. Alternatively, your police contact may be able to find out about treatment given and explain it to you.
To find out more about the Patient Advice and Support Service (PASS), go to www.cas.org.uk/pass.
If you are the nearest relative, you can get a copy of the medical report prepared by the hospital on treatment given. This can be requested by you or your solicitor, and there may be a fee. This report may use medical terms unfamiliar to you, so you may want to ask a hospital doctor or your GP to explain it to you. You may not be able to get full details of treatment until after the Procurator Fiscal’s investigations into the death are finished.
If you have a concern that a hospital treated your loved one inadequately, you may wish to consult a personal injury solicitor (see Section 5: Can I claim compensation?). In some cases, a medical negligence claim can be brought.
Why did the crash happen?
It is common to want to know straight away what happened and who was involved. The police will carry out an investigation into the crash and collect evidence on behalf of the Procurator Fiscal (see Section 3: Criminal investigation and charges). If it appears that someone may have committed an offence, criminal charges may be brought (see Section 3: Criminal investigation and charges).
If a solicitor is working on your behalf to find out if you can claim compensation (see Section 5: Can I claim compensation?), they will need information from the police (including names of people involved, witness statements and evidence such as photographs). It is important that your solicitor requests and gets information as soon as possible.
The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (the organisation that decides whether someone should be prosecuted after a crime) has guidelines about when information may be released. In some cases, for legal reasons, some information may not be released until after an investigation or a prosecution has happened.
You can ask your police contact or the Procurator Fiscal questions at any time during the police investigation. They may not have much information at first, and may not be able to tell you certain things until their investigation is complete, but they will tell you as much as they can.
You can read more about what information can be released and when it can be released in the document ‘Access to Information Protocol’. To read this document, go to www.copfs.gov.uk/publications and click on 'Victims and witnesses'.
What happens to a vehicle involved in the crash?
If a person who died was in a vehicle or on a motorbike or bicycle, it might be taken away for examination by the police, along with any other vehicles involved in the crash. The police examine vehicles involved in fatal crashes to find out if there were any mechanical defects, and to get more information about what happened in the crash.
Vehicles may be kept until the end of the police investigation and any resulting criminal prosecution. Sometimes the police have to take vehicles apart to find out what happened. Your police contact can tell you where vehicles are being kept and what is happening to a vehicle. If you were not in the crash, you may want to see a vehicle. You can ask your police contact to arrange this. Many vehicles involved in crashes are very badly damaged, although some are not. Ask your police contact to tell you in advance what a vehicle will look like.
The Procurator Fiscal must authorise the release of a vehicle.
You can pay for an independent examination of a vehicle if you or your solicitor think this is necessary. If you wish to do this, tell your police contact.
For a list of crash investigators, go to www.itai.org.
The National Road Victim Service
0808 8000 401
Brake’s free support service if you are bereaved, seriously injured, or helping a road crash victim.
Meet your named caseworker. Call 0808 8000 401 or email email@example.com