Chapter 3 – Reporting of Accused to Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS)
112. This chapter examines the period once the police have traced the person responsible and a report of the circumstances and evidence is sent to the local Procurator Fiscal's Office using the Standard Police Report ( SPR). The chapter explores the current policy, practice and use of the SPR in relation to victim issues. Another area we explore is the extent to which the police reflect the impact which a crime has had on the victim of a crime and how this approach could be seen as increasing the victim's participation in the criminal justice process.
Policies and Procedures
113. The Standard Police Report is a nationally agreed format for the submission of reports from the police to COPFS. The SPR is delivered using different IT platforms and whilst there may be some variations to reflect local agreements between the police and local Procurators Fiscal, in the main the report format follows the same standard.
114. In 2008 a new and updated format for the Standard Police Report was introduced commonly known as SPR2. The changes introduced reflected obligations in relation to disclosure and also introduced the ability to identify witnesses and accused in relation to their vulnerability. It also included a Victim Impact section for specific categories of crimes.
115. The timescale when a report is sent to the Procurator Fiscal is obviously determined by the length of time of any investigation that leads to the crime being detected. During this inspection we observed a wide variation in this time frame. In a significant majority of the assault cases the period from crime to detection was very short as the accused was often traced at the time by police meaning that the summary of evidence to the Procurator Fiscal was very succinct. In some of the housebreaking crimes there was a significant amount and varied type of investigations carried out and the detection of the accused often took place many months after the crime. Clearly the level of information in these cases is likely to be more detailed.
116. During this inspection we examined the guidance on the completion of the SPR issued to officers by the three inspected forces. The document is based on a standard national policy with amendments to reflect the local IT platform and any local arrangements.
117. We noted that there is very little reference to or consideration specifically of victims in the SPR format with the report very much offender focussed. It does include the facility to electronically mark a witness or accused as being vulnerable. Similarly a section on the impact of crime, comprising of a series of questions, has been introduced in the current version of SPR but this is for the use of only specific categories of crime such as hate crime meaning that for the great majority of crimes covered by this report this facility is not used.
118. In our previous report it was noted that, over the past few years, the victims' agenda had been subsumed by the wider witnesses' agenda. The report re-emphasised the need for victims to be considered as victims first, irrespective of whether they ultimately would be used as a witness in the criminal justice process. The report stated "the focus on the victim, simply like any other witness, may at times fail to recognise the particular damage and consequence to them as the victim of the crime and their legitimate needs relating to information provision and support".
119. Building on this, we explored whether victims should be specifically identified as such in the Standard Police Report by way of a tag or electronic marker. It is recognised practice for the complainer or victim to be the first named person in the list of witnesses within the report but in cases where there are multiple victims the issue can become complicated.
120. We discussed this issue with representatives from COPFS and ACPOS. There was support for such a move as it was felt that such a marker could help COPFS to quickly differentiate between victims and witnesses. This would be useful when reviewing evidence in a case and also help when communicating with the victim. This type of marker would also be useful through the subsequent process including the Victim Information and Advice service ( VIA).
121. As well as the practical benefits of this, such an approach also re-affirms the important status of the victim of a crime and the unique role which a victim has in and outside the criminal justice system, reinforcing commitments detailed in the Scottish Strategy for Victims and the subsequent National Standards for Victims of Crime.
Recommendation 5-Victim Marker on SPR
Chief Constables, through the ACPOS Criminal Justice Business Area and COPFS should amend the format of the Standard Police Report to include a tag or marker that identifies a victim of crime in the report and differentiates them from other witnesses.
Impact of Crime on Victim
122. The third objective of The Scottish Strategy for Victims is to increase victim participation in the criminal justice system. This issue has caused considerable discussion and debate over many years with a wide range of views on the extent to which victims should be able to actually participate in the criminal justice process.
123. This has in part been due to the fact that the strategy itself does not define participation.
124. We examined this issue in relation to existing processes that are in place rather than any future developments that would require additional legislation or significant resources to implement. The two areas we explored were:-
- The extent to which the police reflect the impact a crime has had on a victim in order that this can be considered and used by COPFS to reflect the opinions of the victims at key stages of the criminal justice process.
- The extent to which the victim's role in the criminal justice process as a witness in court is facilitated. This point is covered in Chapter 5 of this report dealing with victim participation in the trial process.
Our Telephone Survey of victims explored whether they felt that the impact of the crime on them had been sufficiently considered during the criminal justice process. Of those who responded to this question just over 1 in 5 felt the court was sufficiently made aware of the impact with some victims stating that they were not asked questions relating to their financial loss.
125. Some of the comments received from victims included:-
" The PFS did not bother to find out what impact the crime had on myself - although I did not suffer any physical injury I did suffer mental health problems for quite some time after the crime."
"The financial loss to myself was not asked."
126. In addition during our consultation with support agencies Victim Support Scotland stated that they were strongly supportive of victim impact information being provided by the police and used in courts stating "the more information provided the better."
127. It is recognised good practice for police officers to provide additional supporting information that may assist the Procurator Fiscal to make decisions on a specific case. The normal process is for this information to be included in the Remarks Section of the SPR and the information may relate to the accused, the victim or any other background information on the crime.
128. As part of the inspection we examined the SPRs submitted for the cases included in the case audit. Whilst there is a specific section available in the SPR for recording victim impact this is only used for specific crimes such as hate crimes and therefore this would not be used for those crimes included in this inspection. Consequently our inspection was limited to any information provided by the reporting officer within the main report and/or within the Remarks Section of the SPR. We found that only a small number of the cases reviewed included additional information from the reporting officer to the Procurator Fiscal and most of these related to the accused rather than the victim. The audit of COPFS case papers also identified that fewer than half of the theft cases audited contained information on financial loss with case papers showing little evidence of the court being informed of the financial loss.
129. Staff responsible for Case Management within police forces stated that the decision to include impact of crime information lay with the reporting officer and it was their perception that often only experienced officers would provide this type of information. There was also a tendency for additional information to be provided in some specific types of crimes such as domestic abuse or more serious crimes but were less common for the types of crime covered in this report.
130. We reviewed the policies of COPFS on the impact of the crime and found that they had more specific policies in place in relation to presenting the impact of crime on a victim at court. Commitment 8 of the COPFS "Our Commitments to Victims and Witnesses" ( OCVW)  is to "Give the judge information about the effect of the crime on you". Additional guidance is also included in the supporting OCVW booklet including a commitment to allow the victim to describe the impact of the crime when giving evidence at a trial and informing the judge at sentencing what is known about the impact of the crime on the victim.
131. In addition, COPFS also have specific guidance for staff included in the Summary Proceedings Guidelines on information to be presented to court which states:-
"Procurators Fiscal must consider whether it is necessary to obtain accurate, updated information about the financial, physical or emotional effects of the crime to provide to the court at the time of sentencing and a requirement that when the plea is tendered, all available information about the impact of the crime must be narrated."
132. This is also supplemented by the COPFS Book of Regulations which states "Where possible, prosecutors should be proactive in obtaining relevant information on the impact of the offence on the victim."
133. The existence of these policies shows a commitment from COPFS to present the impact of crime on victims in court. However the evidence from our inspection is that such information is not being routinely sought by Procurators Fiscal. This would appear to be due to the absence of a process between COPFS and the police to obtain and report victim impact information for summary cases via the SPR. The exceptions to this are the provision of medical evidence, which is included in a section within the SPR, and information on financial loss, particularly for theft. The absence of such arrangements undermines the effectiveness of the commitment made by COPFS.
134. During the inspection we discussed this issue with police officers through Focus Groups and with staff from COPFS. The police officers stated that they were fully aware that they could provide additional information to the Procurator Fiscal but they often felt that this was only appropriate for specific types of crimes. Some officers were of the view that some Procurator Fiscals welcomed the inclusion of additional remarks whilst their perception was that others did not and because of this they were often unsure whether or not to include additional information.
135. We discussed with representatives from COPFS the extent to which information on impact could be used if this was provided by the police. They stated that additional information is often of value when it is provided but it was not always provided sufficiently including information on financial loss. They stated that when additional information such as impact of a crime on a victim is provided it can be used at different stages as the case progresses and not just at trial. Some reported that when they had used this information in court it had been well received by some presiding Sheriffs and stated that they would welcome the inclusion of a specific section in the SPR dealing with the impact on a victim.
136. In recognition of the critical role of Sheriffs in this regard we spoke to nine Sheriffs from all over Scotland on the issue of impact of crime. They were aware that Procurator Fiscal Deputes were asking questions on impact of crime from victims during trial and they welcomed this and found the information to be of use. However they reported that there were occasions where information on the impact of a crime was not available, particularly during sentencing. They confirmed that they were keen to have this information and that when they did it was of benefit to them.
137. We are aware that in Scotland there have been developments in this area through the ability to provide evidence on impact through Victim Impact Statements for cases taken at solemn level. In England and Wales the approach in this field has been more comprehensive with the option being available for victims to provide a Victim Personal Statement for all crimes reported to the Crown Prosecution Service. This allows a victim to provide a statement to the police on the impact the crime had on them. The information on the impact can be updated at any time by the victim and clear guidance has been issued to police on how to obtain such a statement.
138. The purpose behind a Victim Personal Statement is to provide the victim with "a voice" during key stages of the case. It is the opportunity for the victim to advise the criminal justice agencies of how the crime affected them whether this was emotionally, physically or financially. The information provided is intended to assist the Crown Prosecution Service with information in reaching key decisions relating to that case.
139. Whilst Victim Personal Statements have been available across England and Wales since 2001 their application has been inconsistent. The report of the Criminal Justice Joint Inspection on Victim and Witness Experiences in the Criminal Justice system , produced in 2009, found that, in a sample of cases, a Victim Personal Statement was only provided in 58% of them. We also spoke with police forces in England who stated that the implementation of the Victim Personal Statements was not universal. A key challenge was the bureaucracy the process created for both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.
140. The underlying principle behind reporting on the impact which a crime has on a victim, representing the opportunity for the victim's opinion to be heard, is in our opinion sound and fully reflects the commitment and underlying principles of the Scottish Strategy for Victims.
141. Given this we support a move towards the provision of information on the impact of a crime to be provided for all crimes. Such a development would be a significant step forward in victim participation in the criminal justice process and would help deliver the principles of the Scottish Strategy for Victims as well as fulfilling the commitment made by COPFS in its "Our Commitment to Victims and Witnesses".
142. We acknowledge that the method of capturing and presenting this information does require careful consideration if it is to be effective and sustainable. Given the lessons learned from other jurisdictions, developing a process which is robust, clearly delivers the needs of the victims but minimises bureaucracy will be important and will require careful consideration.
Recommendation 6 - Victim Impact Information
Chief Constables and COPFS should introduce procedures to ensure that victim impact information can be captured and provided for all cases.