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COPFS could raise its game over sex offence cases, inspectors find

16 November 2017

Scotland's prosecutors could do more to engage with victims of sex offences to prevent them disengaging with the investigation and prosecution process, an independent inspection report has found.

Published today, a thematic report by the Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland on the investigation and prosecution of sexual crimes praises the dedication of the professionals involved, but identifies several areas where the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service could improve the quality of service delivered to victims.

Prosecution of sexual crimes now constitutes 75% of COPFS's High Court work.

The standard and frequency of communication "is not meeting the needs of victims", the report concludes. It calls for a more proactive approach, tailored to individual vulnerabilities and needs, with the desired method and timing of communication being agreed with victims at the outset.

It also finds "an unrealistic expectation by COPFS of victim and witnesses’ understanding of the prosecution process". The use of legal terminology coupled with a systematic approach to communication is apt to confuse and can contribute to a sense of separation and detachment. Information provided should be readily accessible to those who are unfamiliar with the legal system.

In addition, many victims felt unprepared for and unsighted on the trial process. To assist victims to give their best evidence, the report advocates the introduction of a bespoke court management strategy, designed to ensure the suite of practical measures aimed at providing support is made available in a coordinated package, and discussed at the most appropriate time.

As regards cases involving children, while these are receiving some priority, all such cases should be progressed within custody timescales – and there is "a significant gap in the availability of any advocacy or court based support for children".

The report makes a total of 12 recommendations designed to ensure serious sexual crimes are investigated and prosecuted thoroughly, expeditiously and to the highest quality, in accordance with the individual needs of the victim(s).

Michelle Macleod, HM Chief Inspector commented: “We found many dedicated professionals in the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) seeking to achieve the best outcome for each case, challenged by unprecedented numbers of serious sexual crimes, a climate of budgetary restraint and an increasingly complex criminal justice system.

However, the high number of victims who disengage during the criminal justice process, after taking the significant step to report such crimes, infers that more could be done by the criminal justice system, in which COPFS is arguably the key organisation, to secure their participation throughout the process.”

Click here to access the report.

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