Annex A Summary Case Preparation Thematic
Of the total cases taken to court by COPFS approximately 60% are heard at Sheriff Court summary level (before a Sheriff sitting without a jury). There had been concern for some time about the efficiency of the summary courts and a growing need to make efficiency savings. The question of 'churn' or the unnecessary continuation of cases had received much attention particularly in Audit Scotland's 2011 Report - an Overview of Scotland's Criminal Justice System.
This report looked at the prosecution's role in the process and focused on the quality and timeliness of the Crown's preparation and the extent to which unnecessary delays were attributable to action or inaction on the part of the prosecutor.
Eight Procurator Fiscal Offices of varying sizes were chosen as focus points for the case review which looked at 250 individual cases. The word 'summary' rather understates what is in fact a complex process requiring the co‑operation of various parties in the Criminal Justice System.
We found examples of good practice but too frequently necessary follow-up work was either not done or not collated for court. We found that generally 'disclosure' was well done and greater co-operation with police, Sheriff Clerks and others was evident.
Overall, we found that the policies were in place to deliver improvements but there were gaps in implementation.
Some (but not all) 'churn' was attributable to COPFS. Sheer volume of cases frequently (especially in the larger offices) militated against good timely preparation and courts were often found to be 'overloaded' placing a burden on staff trying to prepare them.
We made 16 recommendations designed to improve the process, all bar two were accepted along with a COPFS plan for implementation.