ANNEX B: AREA INSPECTION REPORTS
In accordance with the Inspectorate's Business Plan a further two Area inspection reports were published during the course of the year.
The full text of these can be read at: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Justice/ipis/area-reports.
In contrast to previous Office inspections which were race-themed the Area inspections cover a wide variety of criminal justice topics including case decision making, compliance with marking policy, drafting of charges, bail decisions, disclosure, service to victims and management issues including management of change, training, performance etc.
In keeping with an evidence-based approach an examination of a sample of cases covering all aspects of the work would be an essential part of the process and give information on the quality of work in the District, Sheriff and High Courts. A wide selection of partners and users of the system would be consulted.
The approach was always intended to be flexible enabling any particular issue to be emphasised and would be in accordance with a risk-based approach. Disclosure and bail decisions continue to be a major feature of this.
AYRSHIRE AREA INSPECTION REPORT
This report was published in June 2008. The Ayrshire Area covers approximately one quarter of the territory covered by Strathclyde Police and straddles two Sheriffdoms. It accounts for about 7.5% of total Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service caseload. It has two Procurator Fiscal Offices situated at Ayr and Kilmarnock.
As part of the case review 180 recently closed cases were selected.
The review of these cases showed an overall high degree of adherence to Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service policy and guidelines.
We examined a number of pre-reform Fiscal Fines and in virtually all of these there was compliance with the then guidance which as we stated in the report augured well for future implementation of reform.
We found that bail decisions were properly taken and that disclosure was not an issue although there was some evidence of timings not being complied with because of late delivery of statements by the police.
In relation to the service to victims and witnesses a number of outside agencies reported good relationships with the Procurator Fiscal Offices. The Victim Information and Advice Division ( VIA) being described by one partner as providing a "great" service and that VIA had made a positive difference to the whole process for the victim.
Feedback from a wide range of criminal justice partners was very positive although there was some criticism of a perceived reduction in the quality of preparation for court, partly believed to be due to the lack of experience of certain front-line staff.
As part of the process to take an evidence-based approach with the assistance of the Witness Service 78 completed questionnaires were received back from witnesses who had actually attended at court.
The conclusions from the survey were positive in that the majority of witnesses received adequate notice to attend court and information on being a witness. Most were advised of what was happening in court on a regular basis and pre-trial court visits were arranged when requested. There were negative comments on courtesy from two witnesses but overall the analysis showed that a good service was provided to witnesses who actually attended at court.
The general conclusion for Ayrshire was that overall, despite some staff shortages and vacancies, the Area performed well especially in key areas. Performance against targets was very good.
HIGHLANDS AND ISLANDS AREA INSPECTION REPORT
The report on Highlands and Islands was published in December 2008.
The Highlands and Islands Area accounts for about 4.8% of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service caseload.
It has the largest number of District Offices of any Area in Scotland (nine in total) with the office at Inverness dealing with approximately 49% of the Area's business.
The inspection of Highlands and Islands posed some logistical problems for the Inspectorate with the large number of offices and had an implication for our case review. As a result the largest number of cases ever examined (350) were selected to reflect a reasonable sample of cases across the whole spectrum in each office.
So far as actual casework is concerned the overall conclusion was that cases were dealt with in accordance with policy with evidence of good preparation for trials and efforts made to minimise inconvenience to witnesses.
Compliance with disclosure rules was generally good as were decisions made on bail.
As with previous Area inspections with the assistance of the Witness Service some feedback was obtained from witnesses actually in attendance at court. The courts covered were Inverness, Tain and Dingwall.
All witnesses reported they had received adequate notice to attend court and were given adequate information and all received information on progress while in the court building. Pre-court visits were arranged where requested. Two, however, felt that their request to be excused was not dealt with particularly well.
Victims and witnesses organisations were again widely consulted and generally the feedback was positive although some concern was expressed about issues such as bail and the exchange of information. Victim Support were in particular positive in their feedback on relations with the Procurator Fiscal Offices in the Area and there were various examples of close working between the two organisations.
Relations with criminal justice partners more generally including the Bench, the Police and the Court Clerks were positive. One aspect in which the Area was particularly effective was in the arena of equality and diversity and the Area Diversity Team had established a strategy for consulting with the local community and continued to look for ways to effectively engage with the communities in the Highlands and Islands.
The general conclusion was that overall the Area performed to a high standard particularly in the area of target achievement. The widespread geographical nature of the Area did impose some strains with cover being difficult to provide at short notice in the event of illness etc. Efforts were being made however to address this particular problem.