Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill ultimately has the power to overturn a controversial policy to allow some police officers to carry handguns routinely in the Highlands.
The Police and Fire Reform Scotland Act gives Scottish ministers the authority to give directions to the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) in the event of an “adverse” HM Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland report.
The power is available if inspectors are of the opinion that the authority or force is “not efficient or effective” or will be unless remedial measures are taken.
Two independent bodies are conducting reviews into Police Scotland’s decision to allow some police officers to routinely carry Glock pistols on their hips to run-of-the-mill incidents.
Police Scotland has asked HMICS to investigate the practice and SPA is also carrying out an inquiry into how the force reached the decision.
Politicians, the public and police officers will be given an opportunity to express their views at evidence sessions.
Mr MacAskill has repeatedly insisted firearms was an operational matter for the force and he could not get involved.
Under the terms of the law, the minister would only be urged to act if the reviews concluded that officers should not routinely carry handguns and the HMICS recommendations to that effect were ignored.
It states: “The authority must comply with any direction.”
Derek Penman, HM Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland, said: “What I have is the ability to make recommendations to the chief constable and the police authority and they can have regard to these recommendations and take them forward as they see fit.
“If I felt they did not take account of the recommendations and that would move the force into a place where it was ineffective and inefficient, I could then move to the minister and he could potentially make a determination.”
Mr Penman said he did not want to pre-empt the outcome of the review, which has been welcomed by Police Scotland.
The force has pledged to examine alternative options for the carrying of guns by armed officers if it is decided the standing firearms authority should remain in place.
Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said: “Our policing purpose is to keep people safe against all potential threats.”