ANNEX B - VICTIMS IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM PHASE II (published 11 November 2011)
This was the second joint inspection by the Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary for Scotland into how victims were treated in the criminal justice system. The first joint report covering cases where no court proceedings had been taken was published in October 2010.
This second report dealt with cases which had been taken in the summary courts either in the Sheriff Court or the Justice of the Peace Court.
The inspection was set against the background of the Scottish Government's Strategy for Victims published in 2001. The strategy itself had been developed in response to developments throughout Scotland, Europe and internationally including the United Nations declaration of basic principles of justice for victims of crime and abuse of power. The 2001 strategy had been strengthened by the development of national standards for victims of crime launched by the then Scottish Executive in 2005.
Being a joint report the findings related both to the police service and to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.
In relation to COPFS we found evidence of strong leadership both at ministerial level from the present (and former) Lord Advocates and also at official level.
We had recommended in our first report that consolidation should take place in relation to COPFS' commitments to victims (and witnesses) of crime and we found that this had in fact taken place by the production of two public facing documents. We did find some overlap and possible confusion in the information available and therefore recommended that the COPFS consolidated the material available and removed older irrelevant material.
During the inspection we examined what victims were given by way of information.
One of our main findings was that the current policy meant that only those victims who were referred to the COPFS Victim and Information Service (VIA) would receive ongoing information about the progress of their case. While we found evidence of satisfaction with the service provided by VIA the number of summary cases referred to them was very small (primarily domestic abuse cases).
All other victims of summary crime were required to really seek information themselves by contacting COPFS and that many victims were unaware of this need to 'opt in' to the system and we felt this fell short of the commitments to victims within the Scottish strategy.
We looked at particular aspects of victim information and found that where a case was adjourned (for whatever reason) and witnesses countermanded that the countermand notice did not explain fully what this in practice meant and we therefore recommended that a sentence be added to the countermand notice advising the witnesses that they would (or not) be required to attend in the future.
We carried out a telephone survey of victims in Scotland in consultation with bodies such as Victim Support Scotland and found that a significant number of respondents stated they were not satisfied with how well they were kept informed of the case by COPFS.
Although we did find examples of some good practice (such as in Dumfries and Galloway) we recommended nevertheless that COPFS ensured that it proactively provided all victims with information they needed when they needed it.
In relation to VIA since our first report had been published another category of victim/witness had been introduced to be covered by the VIA service. While we welcomed the addition of this category and the potential widening of the coverage by VIA we noted that the COPFS IT system had not been adapted to include this category thus we felt undermining its effectiveness. We asked that this be addressed in one of our suggestions thus improving the monitoring of referrals.
On the question of identifying and reporting on a victim's vulnerability (essential for future action) we explored the roles and responsibilities of both the police and COPFS and examined training provided to police officers at the Scottish Police College which we found to be extensive for probationary constables but requiring some improvement for first and second line managers. We noted guidance issued to COPFS staff on their roles and responsibilities in this area.
During the fieldwork we conducted it emerged that the police were good at identifying and reporting on obvious vulnerability categories such as disability but identification of more hidden vulnerability such as mental health problems was more challenging.
COPFS staff had reported that the lack of information on vulnerability could have a negative impact on any resulting criminal justice process and that it was key to identifying whether special measures would be needed in court.
We looked at the experience of victims when they were required to attend at court. In practice only a very small number of victims actually had the opportunity to give evidence in summary cases.
This was reflected in the fact that we had difficulty in obtaining sufficient data on victim participation at this stage during our audit and telephone survey. We explored the continuing problem of trials being adjourned or 'churned' and noted various initiatives led by the Scottish Government and involving the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS) and COPFS to improve witness attendance at court.
We did note, however, that COPFS currently had no statistics relating to witness attendance at court and consequently we recommended that COPFS should consider ways to improve its IT system to allow for analysis of victim/witness attendance at court.
We also looked at how victims were treated after the court proceedings whether there had been a trial or not including the payment of expenses and return of productions.
In relation to expenses we found a high level of customer satisfaction.
However in relation to information on the disposal of the case our telephone survey of victims found that many were dissatisfied with not being told the final outcome of their case by COPFS. We felt that this was a missed opportunity and recommended that COPFS should proactively inform victims of the outcome.
Finally we examined procedures around the return of property belonging to victims/witnesses which had been taken as part of the case (known as productions).
Our own surveys did not reveal any great concern by victims but we were made aware of issues between COPFS and police forces relating to returning property.
While the COPFS policy was clear we did find significant variation in practice which had a negative impact on both police forces and property owners and consequently in recommendation 12 we recommended that police forces and COPFS developed and implemented an agreement between them which detailed clear procedures that would ensure the efficient return of property to victims and owners after the conclusion of the case.
Our overarching conclusion related to the provision of information to victims on the progress of their case. This was an issue which arose consistently throughout the inspection and was strongly evidenced both in consultation with external organisations and in the telephone survey of victims which we carried out. We noted that the Scottish strategy for victims placed the onus on agencies to proactively provide victims with updates and that both the police and COPFS had made a commitment to comply with this.
We felt that the current policy of COPFS on how it provided information to victims fell some way short of the requirements of the strategy to which it was committed and was reflected in the responses from victims consulted during the survey.
As a consequence the principal finding of the report was that police forces and COPFS should set and deliver clear service standards for the proactive updating of victims as to the progress of their case including the outcome thereof.