ANNEX A: THEMATIC REPORTS
Summary Justice Reform Thematic Report on the Use of Fiscal Fines
In common with current thinking on inspection the Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland takes a risk-based approach to choice of topics. Summary Justice Reform generally represented a major step change in the criminal justice system and enhanced powers to Procurators Fiscal to issue Fiscal Fines was identified as a suitable topic for consideration once the system had bedded in.
Following the introduction of enhanced Fiscal Fines there was much media focus on their use and the Lord Advocate in answering concerns raised by the Members of the Scottish Parliament on 26 June 2008 indicated that the Inspectorate of Prosecution would be carrying out an independent inspection on the implementation of the new powers.
The methodology used was to take an exclusively evidence-based approach to the work. A random selection of Fiscal Fines was selected from each of the 11 Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service Areas in Scotland. This related to cases in September 2008 and meant that six months had elapsed from the commencement of the new system.
The cases were picked by the Inspectorate team to cover all the available levels of Fiscal Fine and all types of case.
In total about 1,500 cases were examined in detail and the decisions made in these cases were compared to Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service guidance. This guidance remains confidential but the Inspectorate had access to it.
Any apparent breaches of policy were taken up with the issuing office for any comments they had.
Most of the media concerns raised about the use of enhanced Fiscal Fines centred on assault. Fiscal Fines for assault were not new and had been in operation since 1987. However, public perception and confidence are important and we therefore looked closely at the assault cases thrown up in our random selection. 142 charges of assault were examined and we asked for additional information on 25 of these. From the 142 examined in only five, after consultation, did we take issue with the use of the Fiscal Fine looking at the nature of the assault. In October 2008 the guidance for staff was amended and the five cases we identified as being inappropriate would now be excluded by the new guidance.
Overall, we found that the vast majority of Fiscal Fines were appropriate and proportionate. We did, however, make three recommendations: Firstly, in relation to the hierarchy of the guidance suggesting that where there was any possible conflict in the guidance then the matter should be clarified. Secondly, we recommended a relaxation of the self-imposed rule by the Crown Office that a Fiscal Fine could not be issued in certain circumstances where an offender was subject to certain court orders and finally we recommended that the current in-house monitoring of all Fiscal Fines issued for assault should be retained, at least for the time being.
The Lord Advocate accepted all three of the recommendations and the report highlights the value of an evidence-based approach to inspection work rather than reliance on anecdotal stories.
The full report can be accessed online at the following address: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Justice/ipis/reps.