To the Right Honourable Elish Angiolini QC
The Lord Advocate
This is my second report as Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prosecution in Scotland since the office was established as a statutory one in April 2007 by the Criminal Proceedings etc. (Reform) (Scotland) Act 2007.
My duty in terms of the legislation is to secure the inspection of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and submit to you, the Lord Advocate, a report on any particular matter connected with the operation of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service which you refer to me.
The year 2008-2009 saw the completion of two further Area inspection reports. The Area inspection programme was designed to cover a wide range of topics such as bail, disclosure, treatment of witnesses, casework, community engagement etc and was intended to be risk based and adaptable to change.
The two Area reports were for Ayrshire and Highlands & Islands. As ever considerable emphasis was placed on case review. Inspection, in my opinion, is about improvement, quality assurance and accountability and the case review examines how policy had been put into practice with views sought from a wide range of criminal justice partners and "system users". As before, thanks to assistance from the Witness Service, contact was made with a significant number of witnesses at court for real world feedback on their experience of coming to court. This has the benefit of providing feedback on our earlier joint (with the Witness Service) Thematic Report on the Provision of Services to Witnesses published in 2006.
In addition to the two Area reports a thematic report on the use of enhanced Fiscal Fines was completed. Enhanced Fiscal Fines (as part of Summary Justice Reform) produced considerable political and media interest. The report took a strong evidence-based approach to the work as opposed to anecdotal and examined the issue of 1,500 Fiscal Fines and looked at compliance with Crown Office policy and guidance. The overarching conclusion was that the vast majority of Fiscal Fines issued had been proportionate and in accordance with the intended aims of the new provisions.
As a consequence of the recommendations of the Crerar Review on inspection reform (published in September 2007) the fifth Area inspection which is currently taking place (for Lanarkshire) is using a mixture of self assessment and normal Inspectorate methodology. Consultation with Crown Office colleagues in Strategy and Delivery Division has resulted in Lanarkshire being treated as a "pilot" for the casework inspection section to be done "in-house" by Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service staff. The Inspectorate examining a sample of the in-house cases to ensure rigorous self assessment has taken place and a comprehensive picture of the cases is presented. Depending on the outcome of this pilot future Area inspections may be modified to include this aspect of self assessment.
This report contains comment on the Equalities Bill and the Public Services Reform Bill. The latter in particular has potentially significant implications for inspectorates and its passage through the Scottish Parliament will be closely monitored. Recent events in the financial services world and in social work have underpinned the need for robust and effective inspection and regulatory regimes.
I support the principle that service providers should take primary responsibility for the quality of their services and seek to improve them and I am happy to utilise the results of self assessment as part of the data gathering to inform inspection work. This could never in my opinion, however, be the totality of quality assurance. This is especially true in high risk areas where there is a growing consensus that the public, Government and even service providers all want a strong, profession-based and independent assurance of service quality. Professor Crerar himself recognises the dangers of over reliance on self assessment and that it can be self delusionary and scrutiny bodies need to make sure there are very robust systems embedded and in many cases there are not.
Joint working (a feature of the Crerar Report's recommendations) with other inspectorates and other bodies continues and a report will shortly be published in conjunction with Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (Scotland) on the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.
I would like to thank the considerable number of individuals and bodies who gave freely of their time and expertise in the production of this year's various reports. Contact is made with a vast array of criminal justice partners and other organisations and without exception such individuals and bodies have responded to requests for assistance and comment. Indeed in some cases the Inspectorate has been approached by individuals and bodies wishing to contribute.
The overarching aim of the Inspectorate is to contribute to making improvements in service delivery, making the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service more accountable and enhancing public confidence. The forthcoming year will, as ever, no doubt prove to be a challenging one and I will ensure that the Inspectorate plays its part in the development of inspection and provide you with robust, value-adding reports on the operation of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.
Joseph T O'Donnell
HM Chief Inspector