There has been considerable progress in implementing the recommendations of our 2017 review of the investigation and prosecution of sexual crime in the High Court. Eight recommendations have been achieved, three are in progress and one is no longer relevant given changes to working practices.
This progress illustrates the commitment at a strategic level within COPFS to ensuring cases advance more efficiently through the investigation and prosecution process and that victims are better informed and supported.
Despite this progress, our findings show that delays still occur and there is still scope for improving communication with victims.
Several changes to policy and procedure have been made in response to our recommendations but, in some areas, there is scope for COPFS to ensure that these changes are fully implemented in practice.
Some changes have only been made recently. They should have a positive impact once they are embedded and their benefits are fully realised.
A new approach to monitoring performance against key milestones in the journey of a case has been introduced. With robust governance, this should support efforts to shorten the journey time of cases and to prioritise certain types of case, such as those involving children.
Pre-petition investigation is being used in a more appropriate way than it was at the time of our initial inspection. Nonetheless, the period of investigation can still be protracted.
Delays still occur at various stages in the investigation and prosecution of sexual crime cases. For example, despite efforts to expedite and prioritise cases, it appeared that indicters are still working to statutory time limits.
Not all delays are within the control of COPFS. Increasingly, there appear to be delays in cases reaching trial. It is imperative that the criminal justice system operates efficiently and effectively, and is resourced appropriately, so that the benefits of improvements made in expediting the investigation and prosecution of cases are not lost due to a lack of court time.
In too many cases, the police are failing to provide information about the background of victims and an initial assessment of their vulnerability when reporting cases to COPFS.
There are inconsistencies in the quality of communication with victims. While some receive a good and improving service from a dedicated VIA officer, others experience delays and gaps in communication.
The establishment of a mechanism by which COPFS receives feedback from victims via Rape Crisis Scotland about their experience of the investigation and prosecution process is a welcome development. This indicates that COPFS is increasingly open to listening to victims and taking action in response to their concerns.
The suspension of jury trials in response to the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in significant delays in cases that are ready for trial. Delays may have a serious impact on victims, witnesses and the accused.