Chapter 10 – Requests for Information
"… the police need to be structured so that, when a Procurator Fiscal seeks further information about a report to inform the prosecution decision, it is clear how the police will handle the question and the time frame within which the Procurator Fiscal can expect an answer."
The McInnes Report 2004
The inspection team found a diverse range of processes applied by forces and Procurators Fiscal in processing requests for information to inform prosecution decisions. There is also a complete lack of management information captured by police forces and COPFS to monitor such requests. A similar situation exists in relation to requests for statements (Chapter 11) In the absence of robust processes, it is commonplace for responses to Procurators Fiscal to be delayed, which in turn impacts adversely on the COPFS target to take and implement a decision to prosecute. Anecdotal evidence suggests that, in some instances, Procurators Fiscal have limited confidence in existing processes and are likely to mark a case "no proceedings" rather than request additional information from police officers.
Consultation with the Sheriffs' Association revealed that information about matters relevant to sentence, such as the full nature and extent of losses, injury or damage, was frequently not immediately available. It was recognised that in some cases such information may take time to assess and that the Procurator Fiscal may need to make further enquiry of the police. There is therefore a need to make proper follow-up enquiries and to provide satisfactory supplementary reports. The experience of Sheriffs suggests there is still room for improvement in this area.
Requests for information were addressed within the ACPOS/ COPFS Joint Protocol through the following:
- Requests for information between Scottish Police Forces and COPFS should be dealt with within 14 days unless otherwise agreed - [ ACPOS/ COPFS - Rec. 10]
- Every Police Force should have a disclosed back-up system in place to enable timely response to communications from the Procurator Fiscal notwithstanding the absence from the duty of the Reporting Officer, for whatever reason [ ACPOS/ COPFS - Rec. 14]
The inspection team was aware of concerns expressed by some forces that the 14 day target for all requests for information from Procurators Fiscal would be detrimental to operational policing and that, in many cases, Procurators Fiscal may not always require the information within that period. Forces indicated that the priority given to formal requests for information regarding summary cases and the time frames set is wholly dependent on the urgency expressed by the Procurator Fiscal at time of request. The 14 day target is not a statutory performance indicator and is largely ignored by forces. The service delivery to Procurators Fiscal is dictated by the urgency of the request.
Taking into account local arrangements, the existence of co-located officers within Procurator Fiscal offices and the management information available through the FOS system, there is significant scope for improvement by both services in monitoring information requests through current management systems. The inspection team suggests that all information requests from Procurators Fiscal should be managed using the following information:
- date information requested
- date the response is required by PF
- date the response is received by PF.
HMIC and IPS suggest that all requests by Procurators Fiscal are routed through a single point of contact within forces or divisions, possibly the case management unit or co-located officers. On receipt of such a request, the force should seek to deliver the relevant information by the date requested by the Procurator Fiscal. Timescales for response should be set on a case by case basis and informed by local discussion and agreement between both services. The existing target of 14 days for all correspondence should be abandoned in favour of a new target, with performance measured against the date by which the response is required. Forces and Area Procurators Fiscal should routinely monitor performance against this target, to identify unacceptable delays by police or unrealistic dates being set by Procurators Fiscal.
Given that Procurators Fiscal both initiate and receive all requests for information, it would appear logical that FOS is adopted as the primary system to record the three key dates and provide performance information. The inspection team accepts that this may require some additional development to the FOS system and may include new functionality to automate receipt responses to information requests from forces. HMIC and IPS recommend that COPFS explore the feasibility of using FOS to record and monitor performance in relation to requests for information.
Recommendation 11 - that ACPOS and COPFS review the current target to respond to all requests for information within 14 days, and establish a new target set against the date by which the response is required. COPFS should also explore the feasibility of using the Future Office System ( FOS) to record and monitor performance relating to requests for information.
While FOS would seem a suitable system to record and monitor performance in relation to information requests, there will still be a requirement for police case management systems to receive, allocate and fulfil such requests. The integrated case management system within Tayside Police has this functionality. It also provides a back up arrangement for requests, should reporting officers be unavailable, by re-routing these to alternative officers. Central Scotland Police, Fife Constabulary and Grampian Police have functionality within the CrimeFile system to log and manage requests for information as tasks in individual officer workloads, with supervisory oversight.
HMIC and IPS consider that introducing police co-located officers will assist in providing "system back up" in terms of prompting timely responses from officers to requests from Procurators Fiscal. This is already evident within Dumfries & Galloway Constabulary, Fife Constabulary and the relatively new post created in Central Scotland Police.