Chapter 9 – Abbreviated Reports
"We consider though that the preparation of full police reports in every case for submission to the Procurator Fiscal with an initial report is not a good use of police time."
The Summary Justice Review Committee "Report to Ministers" 2004
The ACPOS/ COPFS Working Group considered abbreviated reports. It recognised that introducing electronic transmission of police reports and adopting a Standard Prosecution Report across Scotland, limited the use of simplified reports that had previously been used by forces. At that time, Strathclyde Police had been working with the Procurator Fiscal in Glasgow and had created templates for a range of minor offences. It was considered that these could be used on a national basis and the following was included within the ACPOS/ COPFS Joint Protocol:
- Area Fiscals and Chief Constables should identify categories of offences in respect of which they agree that they may be reported in an abbreviated format. Any such agreement should be reviewed annually as should the capacity to extend it to other offences - [ ACPOS/ COPFS - Rec. 18]
- The styles for abbreviated reports developed in the Strathclyde Area should be regarded as suitable templates for local use - [ ACPOS/ COPFS - Rec. 19]
The inspection team confirmed that all forces are developing approaches with Area Procurators Fiscal to streamline reporting. However, it is helpful to distinguish between "abbreviated reports" and "abbreviated reporting", both of which can provide business benefits.
9.1 Abbreviated Reports
Abbreviated reports contain a shortened evidential section within the Standard Prosecution Report ( SPR) and are intended to provide sufficient information to Procurators Fiscal in relation to minor cases. As there are a number of mandatory fields that must be completed before a report can be sent electronically, there is only minimal scope to abbreviate a report. However, the inspection team confirmed that all forces have developed, or are in the process of developing, a range of abbreviated templates in partnership with Procurators Fiscal. These consist of pro-forma summaries with evidential bullet points to simplify the process of creating reports by officers and assist marking by Procurators Fiscal. The inspection revealed that approximately 15-20 % of reports currently submitted to Procurators Fiscal are in an abbreviated format.
Consultation with the Sheriffs' Association highlighted the importance of abbreviated reports containing all the information the court requires to determine sentence. If such information is not available, then the court either has to adjourn the case for the information to be obtained or has to rely on what is said by the defence. This creates an additional burden on the courts, Procurators Fiscal and police and reduces any benefits of the abbreviated report.
The inspection team is encouraged that all forces have made attempts to implement a system of abbreviated reports in conjunction with Procurators Fiscal. However, there appears to be a lack of consistency in the application and range of pro-forma summaries currently in use. There is also a link with options for non-reporting (Section 8.3), which may limit the value of abbreviated reports through any increase in the number of minor cases which no longer require to be reported. Of the forces that have implemented a full system of abbreviated reports, there has been no formal evaluation of the benefits, although some forces have started to collect management information regarding their submission. HMIC and IPS consider there would be value in ACPOS and COPFS evaluating the use of abbreviated reports across Scotland. This would complement the recommended review of the current and proposed range of non-reporting and non-court options. It would also provide guidance on suitable reporting formats as part of any national framework in relation to which offences are most suited to which disposal.
Recommendation 10 - that ACPOS and COPFS evaluate the benefits of abbreviated reports against developments in non-reporting and non-court disposals, with a view to including reporting formats within any national framework to inform forces and Procurators Fiscal which offences are most suited to the use of abbreviated reports.
9.2 Abbreviated Reporting
The "Cleanstream" projects in West Lothian and Grampian provide a framework for officers to engage with the Procurator Fiscal to establish the evidential requirements for a particular case before submitting it. Upon the Procurator Fiscal deciding if a report is required, the officer is informed and the report is thereafter prepared. The "Cleanstream" method of abbreviated report is different from the abbreviated reports agreed in the ACPOS/ COPFS protocol. The arrangement essentially involves feedback from the Procurator Fiscal in relation to matters that are irrelevant or which could be more clearly focused to reduce the length and complexity of reports. This is viewed positively by officers, who believe it substantially reduces the amount of time writing reports and gives Procurators Fiscal "what they need". While officers made frequent contact with the Procurator Fiscal during the early stages of "Cleanstream", the need for this diminished as officers become more familiar with what they required.
Early indications suggest that a significant proportion of cases are submitted in an "abbreviated" format on the instruction of the Procurator Fiscal. After the first 29 weeks of the Grampian project, 87% of reports were submitted in an abbreviated form, with 4% being slightly abbreviated. A further 9% were not abbreviated and only 1% could not be abbreviated. Officers involved in the project believe that this approach allows briefer reports to be submitted quickly to the Procurator Fiscal.
The inspection team is supportive of any initiative that reduces the need for officers to submit police reports and increases Procurators' Fiscal capacity to mark cases. HMIC and IPS are aware that the "Cleanstream" projects will be formally evaluated. This should provide useful information for ACPOS and COPFS in relation to the potential benefits and wider application of abbreviated reporting.
The Ayrshire Procurator Fiscal Fixed Fine Initiative ( PFFFI) is a further example of abbreviated reporting, involving joint working between police and Procurators Fiscal at Ayr and Kilmarnock. The initiative was introduced in August 2003 to reduce a backlog of police reports. It was agreed that the Procurator Fiscal would accept initial crime reports for specific minor offences and use the information to consider an appropriate disposal. Once crime reports are marked by the Procurator Fiscal, case management units generate a skeleton SPR, with the disposal indicated by the Procurator Fiscal. These reports are subsequently forwarded to the Procurator Fiscal and processed by administrative staff, without being re-examined by the Procurator Fiscal Depute.
HMIC and IPS were encouraged by the innovative approach in marking minor cases from a crime report, and acknowledge the resultant time savings for officers. This is seen as a particularly useful approach in clearing backlogs of police reports and may be worthy of replication in other forces. The approach lends itself to providing Procurators Fiscal with access to crime recording systems and could be supported through increased co-location of staff. However, the development of a national framework to inform police and Procurators Fiscal in relation to what offences are suited to what disposal, may reduce the need for this initiative.