Scotland's prosecution service need to 'up its game'

Crown Office

Scotland's prosecution service needs to "up its game" when dealing with victims of crime and witnesses, according to the Scottish Police Federation (SPF).

The SPF, which represents rank and file officers, also said Crown Office staff often appeared "overwhelmed".

Holyrood's Justice Committee is looking into claims that the service is buckling under workload and cost pressures.

The Crown Office said it "strongly disagreed" with the comments.

In a written submission to the review panel, SPF general secretary Calum Steele praised "dedicated" and "hardworking" staff working at the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).

'Farcical levels'

However, he told the inquiry that it was "the experience of our members that when matters get to court, the procurators fiscal are often unprepared and lack knowledge of the case".

The SPF said that COPFS did "not have the skill set to carry out its role effectively" in cases involving new technologies.

Mr Steele said: "The SPF believes that the COPFS needs to significantly 'up its game' in both its dealing with victims and witnesses.

"This is especially true when it comes to the court experience, where what can only be described as farcical levels of disturbance and inconvenience are experienced.

"We appreciate that court scheduling is a matter not directly in the hands of the COPFS but the volume of cases that can be laid down for a particular court hearing are by any measure unrealistic.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The Faculty of Advocates said there had been a deterioration in the preparation of some cases

"It appears to the SPF that large numbers of cases are called, not because there is any prospect of the case being heard, but to ensure timescales can be adhered to."

The federation said the frequency of cases being adjourned or abandoned was too high and that adjournments and abandoned cases were causing some victims to loss of confidence in the system.

The SPF also raised concerns that cases were proceeding despite a lack of evidence to secure a conviction, particularly in relation to domestic violence.

In a separate submission, the Faculty of Advocates said it believed "that a lack of resources within COPFS has had a significant impact on the effectiveness and efficiency of the pre-indictment preparation of non-homicide and non-sexual cases."

'Minimum inconvenience'

It added: "There has also been a general deterioration in the standard of pre-indictment preparation in non-homicide and non-sexual offence cases.

"The Faculty questions whether COPFS has the resources and expertise to prepare and present the prosecution of other complex cases."

A Crown Office spokesman said he strongly disagreed with the conclusions of the SPF.

He added: "Victims are at the heart of the justice system and we are absolutely committed to ensuring that their interests are well served.

"We are working with criminal justice partners to minimise inconvenience to both witnesses and victims of crime, and we can assure the federation that we only take action in cases reported by the police where we consider there is sufficient evidence in law.

"Giving evidence is a core part of police officers' duties and not all citations will result in officers and other witnesses having to attend court; a number of citations are cancelled before the trial date if the accused pleads guilty at an earlier stage in proceedings."

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