This is my third annual report and, in keeping with my previous reports, there is a theme of constant change.
This year has seen the appointment of David Harvie as Crown Agent, the civil service head of Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), and James Wolffe QC and Alison Di Rollo QC, installed as the Lord Advocate and Solicitor General respectively. I wish them all the best in their new roles and look forward to a constructive and productive working relationship.
In November 2015, following feedback gathered through office visits, people surveys and a major consultation exercise, COPFS launched "Shaping the Future" - a programme to review their structures and how COPFS manages the delivery of their core business, namely Initial Case Processing, Summary and Sheriff and Jury, serious casework and corporate services work.
The programme concluded in August 2016 and resulted in a re-design of COPFS leadership and management structures and their business model. The outcome is a model structured around the four key functions of COPFS work:
- Local Court - This function will deliver a local prosecution service dealing with both summary and sheriff and jury business throughout Scotland. It has six geographic business units aligned with Sheriffdoms and local Criminal Justice Boards. Each Unit is underpinned by a leadership structure designed to provide visible leadership on a geographical basis;
- The National Initial Case Processing (ICP) Unit - This has responsibility for initial decisions on what action to take, including whether to prosecute or not, for all summary cases across the country. It forms part of the national local court function reflecting the close relationship between ICP and the teams preparing and prosecuting cases in local courts;
- Serious Casework - This function comprises a number of specialist units, including Appeals Unit; Civil Recovery Unit; Criminal Allegations Against the Police; Health and Safety Division; International Co-operation Unit; Road Traffic Fatalities Unit; Scottish Fatalities Investigations Unit; Serious and Organised Crime Unit; and Wildlife and Environmental Crime Unit. The High Court Unit also falls within the serious casework function. This unit deals with High Court cases in four teams based in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen and includes specialist sexual offences teams and homicide and major crime teams; and
- Operational Support - This function includes Policy and Engagement Division and a number of corporate services including Estates; Finance Division; Human Resources; Information Systems Division; Procurement; and business transformation activities.
The new model aims to address issues that were raised in the consultation process, such as a lack of visibility of senior managers, the absence of local accountability and flexibility and the dilution of effective relationships with criminal justice stakeholders, while simultaneously retaining the benefits of the specialist approach harnessed in the Federation structure.
Through public reporting and scrutiny, effective inspection can support programmes of change and improvement made by organisations to assist their service delivery by identifying where service performance is at risk or failing and identifying opportunities for further efficiencies and improvements to be made. It can also promote accountability and increase public confidence in the quality of services provided.
Taking account of the increase in complex historical sexual abuse cases and that cases involving sexual crimes now represent the majority of the COPFS High Court workload, we have recently embarked on a review of the investigation and prosecution of serious sexual crimes. This will also provide an opportunity to assess the effectiveness of the new functional approach to dealing with High Court cases.
Scrutiny organisations also have a critical role in supporting improved outcomes and encouraging more citizen-focused public services. In the inspections we conducted this year, we focused on whether the service provided by COPFS met the needs and expectations of the service users, whether as victims, witnesses, accused persons or bereaved nearest relatives.
Consideration of the responsiveness of COPFS to user needs and how COPFS uses customer feedback to learn and improve its service was a central theme of our thematic report on complaints handling and feedback.
In recent years, the length of time taken between the date of death and the start of a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) has attracted considerable criticism. For those bereaved by sudden or unexplained death, involvement with the procurator fiscal service and an unfamiliar justice system, occurring at a time of significant personal crisis or distress, can be bewildering and concerning. Whilst it is important to ensure there is a thorough and professional investigation, protracted investigation and unexplained delay is likely to undermine public confidence in COPFS and, potentially, in the FAI process. Our thematic report on FAIs sought to identify reasons for such delays and identified a number of areas where the services offered to bereaved relatives and the public could be improved in this important area of work.
HM Chief Inspector