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COPFS "just about managing", Holyrood committee reports

25 April 2017

Scotland’s prosecution service must do better in a number of key areas, according to a report issued today by Holyrood’s Justice Committee.

The report, which follows the committee’s inquiry into the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service, describes the organisation as "just about managing" in the face of financial constraints and increasingly complex criminal cases, and states that there is no room for complacency.

It sees room for improvement in a number of fundamental Crown Office functions, including the support given to victims and witnesses, and the large workload and treatment of COPFS staff, which impacts on all aspects of the service and all stakeholders.

And it calls the high level of "churn" in the system – adjournments and delays in trials – unacceptable, and damaging to public perceptions and confidence, while recognising that it cuts across the wider criminal justice system.

Principal conclusions from the report include:

  • COPFS is coping in its core role of steering trials through the courts to an appropriate outcome.
  • The level of adjournments and postponements is unacceptably high – inadequate communication is a key problem.
  • COPFS should develop more efficient and effective ways to update people whose attendance is no longer required at a trial.
  • Attention should be given to concerns over the erosion of prosecutors’ autonomy and discretion, the lack of preparation time and the consequences for morale.
  • Change is needed before the risks in the prosecution system crystallise – it would be unreasonable to rely on the resilience of COPFS staff indefinitely.
  • Action is needed to improve the experience of victims and witnesses – for example by making the Victims Code available to victims and by implementing recommendations, many of which have been voiced before, made by Dr Lesley Thomson’s Review of Victim Care in the Justice Sector in Scotland.

Margaret Mitchell MSP, Justice Committee convener, commented: “The committee heard many concerns during our inquiry. Across the board, witnesses identified possible improvements which could be made to how COPFS works – and better serve justice and the public.

“This report, its findings on the service’s strengths and weaknesses, and its recommendations are a considered, cross-party view following six months of work.

“These findings must be taken into account by COPFS management and the Scottish Government. There is no room for complacency, and the committee will be keeping close watch on developments.”

Click here to view the committe's report.


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