Chapter 2 – Our Inspections
This report covers the period from November 2015 to November 2016. During this period we published our thematic report on complaints handling and feedback and a thematic report on Fatal Accident Inquiries.
Thematic Report on Complaints Handling and Feedback
A thematic report on COPFS complaint handling and feedback was published in December 2015 (http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2015/12/1001).
The way in which an organisation handles complaints shows how much it values service users and good customer relations. Meeting dissatisfaction with a positive response and using customer feedback to improve service is crucial to any successful organisation.
An effective complaints system has three key benefits:
1. It resolves issues quickly and cost-effectively;
2. It increases public/customer confidence in the organisation; and
3. It provides information that can drive improvements in service delivery
We found that the complaints handling staff in the Response and Information Unit (RIU), a national specialist unit that handles complaints and feedback, were helpful and skilled and there was a genuine willingness and commitment from the Head of Policy, managers and staff in RIU to improve the complaints handling process. We rated the response from RIU to be excellent or good in 80% of replies.
However, we found that there was less evidence of buy-in from the wider organisation about the need to learn from complaints and to resolve complaints at the point of service delivery.
In addition, whilst there was some evidence of complaints influencing policies and procedures, learning from complaints to support improvement and delivery of service was not systematic. There was no register of themes, actions taken, lessons learnt and outcomes.
We made 15 recommendations designed to strengthen and improve the complaints process and promote a culture that values complaints and commits to learning from them.
We were pleased to report that COPFS accepted all of our recommendations.
Thematic report on Fatal Accident Inquiries
A thematic report on Fatal Accident Inquiries (FAIs) was published in August 2016 (http://www.gov.scot/about/public-bodies/ipis/reps).
FAIs provide a public airing of the circumstances of a death which allows bereaved relatives to hear what happened from those directly involved and to ensure that reasonable measures to prevent a recurrence are identified. FAIs have played a crucial role in driving up safety standards across a range of working environments and provided scrutiny on the way authorities have dealt with deceased persons while in custody.
In recent years, the length of time taken between the date of death and the start of an FAI has attracted considerable criticism. Whilst it is important to ensure there is a thorough investigation, unexplained delays undermine the confidence of bereaved relatives and the public in COPFS. This inspection sought to identify reasons for such delays.
We found that deaths investigations conducted in procurator fiscal offices prior to the creation of the Scottish Fatalities Investigation Unit (SFIU), a specialist unit responsible for investigating all deaths, were characterised by lengthy periods of inactivity and protracted and often unfocused investigations resulting in unexplained delays in a significant number of cases.
In 2012 the SFIU assumed responsibility for investigating all non-suspicious deaths. Since 2012 the time taken between the date of death and the start of an FAI has significantly reduced and there has been a marked improvement in the service provided by COPFS.
While cases are being progressed more quickly, and staff are helpful and committed to providing a high quality service, we identified a number of areas where there is scope for further improvement to expedite investigations and provide a better service to bereaved relatives.
A lack of understanding of the purpose of an FAI has also led to delays and, in some cases, the involvement of unnecessary witnesses. To assist nearest relatives and other interested parties and to provide clarity on the purpose and scope of an FAI, COPFS requires to set out, in an understandable format, the circumstances of the death and the issues that require to be further explored in the public interest at the FAI, prior to the first court hearing.
The report made 12 recommendations designed to expedite the investigation and preparation of Fatal Accident Inquiries and improve the service offered to bereaved relatives and the public.
COPFS has accepted all of our recommendations.
Current and Future Programme
- Follow-up report on the management of time limits.
- Taking account of the increase in complex historic sexual abuse cases and that cases involving sexual crimes now represent over 70% of all High Court workload, we have recently embarked on a review of the investigation and prosecution of serious sexual crimes.
- Follow-up report on complaints handling. As part of the follow-up review, we will include a review of the Victims' Right of Review. The Right of Review was introduced in July 2015. It provides victims with a statutory right to review a decision not to prosecute or a decision to stop or discontinue a case. It is important to assess the procedures and policies implemented by COPFS are effective and fulfil the right provided.
The programme is kept under review and altered as necessary to respond to any new challenges or developments which provide identifiable risks for COPFS and the wider criminal justice system.