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COPFS jobs to go, but frontline fiscals protected

18 January 2017

Procurator fiscal jobs will be protected despite the budget cuts being imposed on the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service, but other staff cuts will have to be made, Crown Agent David Harvie told the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee yesterday.

Giving evidence along with Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC in the committee's inquiry into the efficiency and effectiveness of COPFS, Mr Harvie said he hoped the reductions would come from "natural turnover" rather than compulsory redundancies.

Other savings would be required from the estates budget, and from expert witness costs – which he claimed were already falling. He also spoke of the potential for more significant savings through the evidence and procedure review, with its plans to record evidence digitally to reduce the requirements for witness attendance at court.

Questioned on survey figures that 40% of COPFS staff did not wish to remain in the service longer term, the Lord Advocate responded that 60% had stated that they wanted to stay for at least three more years, and a further 24% for at least the next year, both of which were above the civil service average. 

While recognising that there were still significant concerns over workload and work-life balance, he pointed to indications that the results were moving in the right direction. 

On discretion in marking of cases, Mr Harvie told the committee that it was many years since all marking had been done locally. Mr Wolffe said the national system in operation was organised into teams by sheriffdom, so there was a level of knowledge of local conditions and areas of concern. This ensured both that there was "justification fior any variation from the norm and that variations are done consistently". He asked the committee to consider whether it was satisfactory that there was no consistent level of local diversion schemes across the country.

As for domestic abuse cases, he agreed that the "zero tolerance" policy had its critics, but did not accept that a prosecutor would knowingly raise proceedings where there was insufficient evidence. Between 7 and 8% of cases were not embarked on due to evidence difficulties, and 80% of cases going to trial resulted in a conviction.

Concluding the session, committee convener Margaret Mitchell MSP asked both office holders to "reflect again" on issues over workload, and also the fears expressed by some COPFS staff over voicing their concerns publicly, but said she had been "encouraged by the can-do attitude" the witnesses had shown during the session.

 

 

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