In recent years, the Scottish Executive has embarked on a process of reform of the criminal justice system, recognising the distinctive roles performed by its various constituent parts. The challenge is for all services to work together more effectively and coherently.
The reporting of offenders by the police to the Procurator Fiscal is a key initial stage in the criminal justice system. Its effectiveness in ensuring appropriate prosecution decisions is significant in securing confidence that those who offend will be brought to justice speedily and efficiently, then sentenced and dealt with in a way appropriate to their crimes, thereby reducing re-offending in the future. This early stage of the process has been influenced by reports published following a number of reviews - Bonomy, Normand, McInnes - commissioned as part of the reform process. Their recommendations have been taken forward by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service ( COPFS) and the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland ( ACPOS), representing the police.
In the light of these considerations, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary ( HMIC) and the newly formed Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland ( IPS) together agreed that it was appropriate to review police and Procurator Fiscal case management. Moreover, doing so jointly would offer greater scope to comment on the effectiveness of the relationship between the two services. However, the joint inspection team quickly realised that the range of subject matter that could be considered as part of its work was potentially vast. Consequently the team has focused on a fairly narrow area of activity for the time being, acknowledging the scope for further inspection activity to be carried out in related areas in the future.
In 2003, an ACPOS/ COPFS steering group commissioned a review to consider the timing, quality and volume of police reports and witness statements. The work was influenced by the wider process of criminal justice reform being conducted by the Scottish Executive, and resulted in an agreed ACPOS/ COPFS Joint Protocol. The joint inspection team has used this as the main focus of its inspection activity.
The inspection has confirmed the strength of the bi-lateral relationship between the police and the Procurator Fiscal. It also found increased sharing of key management information and the development of a substantial number of joint initiatives throughout the country. The latter has included the co-location of police staff within Procurator Fiscal offices, leading to improved performance of both police and Procurators Fiscal. In some areas, joint working, e.g. the "Cleanstream" projects, has been taken forward under the broader umbrella of criminal justice boards. Under the growing influence of the National Criminal Justice Board, these local boards represent the cross-agency approach needed to deliver criminal justice reforms.
That said, the inspection team identified scope for a review of existing Joint Protocols and for a more structured approach to performance monitoring. The latter can be made more meaningful by introducing end-to-end targets, monitored under the auspices of criminal justice boards. A general observation was that in meeting performance targets, COPFS benefits greatly from the use of a single management system, the Future Office System. This is in stark contrast to the police, where case management process support remains uncoordinated.
In focusing on continuous improvement, it is vital to consider the training and quality assurance needs around preparing standard police reports and statements. The police and Procurators Fiscal are only now feeling the full implications of the decision of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, in the cases of Holland and Sinclair, in relation to disclosure. Clearly this development places significant and increased demands on the ability of both services to meet performance targets. HMIC and the IPS are supportive of the joint work being carried out to address areas of concern.
The inspection team identified a range of initiatives in relation to non-reporting and abbreviated reporting by police, in addition to non-court disposals by the Procurator Fiscal. Together these are used to help prioritise work within the criminal justice system. Clearly this needs to be managed carefully if communities are to be reassured that persistent offenders are being dealt with in an effective manner. The inspection team is encouraged by the initiatives being undertaken, but urges a review in order that a national framework of options can be considered for common application.