Chapter 2 – Methodology
22. The aim of this inspection was to inspect the arrangements employed by COPFS staff (both legal and administrative staff) to prepare for intermediate diets and summary trials in light of the changes introduced by summary justice reform. This inspection focused on summary trial preparation in the Sheriff Courts in Scotland. (We excluded Justice of the Peace (JP) and Stipendiary Magistrates Courts from this particular exercise.)
23. The inspection examined 8 District Fiscal Offices around Scotland, spread over what was at the time the 11 Areas and now within the Federations. This gave a range of sizes based on Sheriff Court business for the year.
24. Figures provided by COPFS indicated that in period April 2011 to March 2012, 60,418 cases were dealt with in the Sheriff Court (includes the Stipendiary Magistrates Court in Glasgow). This represents 60% of all criminal court business.
Chart 1 - Sheriff Summary Business as % of all Court Business 2011/12
25. Our approach was to examine a number of closed and completed cases in considerable detail and also observe a number of 'live' cases and their preparation at intermediate diet stage in all of the offices.
26. The number of closed and completed cases examined in detail was approximately 250, with a further sample subject to a review at the intermediate diet stage at a local court visit.
27. These were:
- To assess the quality and timeliness of instruction by legal staff for trial preparation and any issues arising from findings.
- To assess the quality and timeliness of action taken by administrative staff following upon the legal instructions provided.
- To identify good practice - what does a well prepared summary case for trial look like?
- To identify the common features of a 'churned' case and assess to what extent it could be said that quality or timeliness of Procurator Fiscal preparation contributed to that 'churn'.
- To identify and promote good practice and make recommendations for improvement.
28. In addition to speaking to COPFS staff we contacted a wide range of criminal justice partners including -
- The Police
- Sheriff Clerks and Scottish Court Service
- Defence solicitors
- Forensic scientists
- Criminal Justice Co-ordinators
29. We are very grateful to all the people who gave so generously of their time. To compile the above list illustrates the extensive numbers of parties who go to make up the criminal justice system and who need to come together to make even the simplest summary trial possible.
30. For the case examination phase detailed questionnaires were prepared to enable data to be compiled and comparisons and issues identified. For the live case review cases were examined 'online' using the Crown Office IT system and meetings with the Sheriff and Sheriff Clerk sought after the court had finished. This was to discover, among other things, how representative the particular court day had been.
31. We did not specifically look at victim issues as we have already covered these in reports in conjunction with HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (Scotland) although some processes in relation to vulnerable witnesses were examined.
32. We cannot claim statistical relevance for our case reviews but they were detailed and extensive and we have no reason to suppose that they are not representative of the work as a whole.