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Most fiscal fines “appropriate and proportionate”, says inspectorate
The vast majority of fiscal fines examined in an independent review have been found to be appropriate and proportionate.
A report by the independent Inspectorate of Prosecution, published today, looks at the use of such fines by procurators fiscal in the wake of last year's summary justice reforms, and finds that fiscal fines have brought speedier disposal and less inconvenience to witnesses.
Inspectors examined approximately 1,500 fiscal fines issued in September 2008. Cases were randomly selected and covered all 11 procurator fiscal areas in Scotland.
Although much media attention has focused on allegedly inappropriate use of fiscal fines, especially in assault cases, the report's "overarching conclusion" is that the use of fiscal fines was proportionate and in line with policy and guidance issued to staff. "Most of the queries we made related to the inevitable initial bedding in of a new system", the report comments in summary.
Chief Inspector of Prosecution Joe O'Donnell said: "We did take issue with a small number of fiscal fines, including some for assault, but revised guidance issued by the Crown Office in October 2008 would now exclude these."
The Inspectorate makes three recommendations, including continuing in-house monitoring of all fiscal fines issued for assault. It also wants Crown Office guidance clarified to make it clearer which aspects take precedence over others, to reduce the risk of the guidance being applied differently in similar cases, and the possibility of fiscal fines remaining open where an accused is subject to a court order and is reported for an offence which would otherwise result in a fiscal fine being issued.
It comments that a very minor offence committed for example while the offender is on bail should not necessarily result in a further court appearance, provided the court dealing with the other offence is advised of the position and the offender is aware this will happen when offered the fiscal fine.
Welcoming the report's findings, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service said it made "a very helpful contribution to understanding the way in which prosecutors are successfully implementing the summary justice reforms".
It added: "The Inspectorate concluded that in five cases of assault for which a fiscal fine was issued, prosecution would have been appropriate. These five cases predated the issue of revised guidance to prosecutors in October 2008 and the Inspectorate is satisfied that the new guidance would exclude the use of a fiscal fine in such cases in future. The Chief Inspector praises the practice we have introduced of senior prosecutors reviewing all fiscal fines for assault to ensure compliance with the revised guidance."
The Lord Advocate has accepted the report's three recommendations.
The report can be viewed at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2009/03/18170358/0