ANNEX A - KNIFE CRIME THEMATIC (published 7 July 2011)
Knife crime in Scotland had long been a cause for concern dating from the razor gangs of the 1950s (and earlier) through to the present day.
Knife crime has dominated headlines for some time with calls for mandatory minimum sentences for those caught carrying knives.
In 2006 in recognition of the seriousness of knife crime the then Lord Advocate asked for a review of prosecution policy and revised guidelines were issued to the Procurator Fiscal Service in 2006.
There were three aspects to this new guidance:
- Those caught by the police were to be reported as custodies pending their appearance in court
- Bail would be opposed for those with relevant previous convictions
- Proceedings would be on indictment for those previously sentenced to imprisonment for possession of a knife. There was to be a presumption in favour of proceeding on indictment for possession of a knife where there was a similar previous conviction (whether or not this had been followed by a jail sentence).
The Scottish Parliament at the same time passed legislation doubling the penalties for possession of knives.
Some five years on from this policy and with knife crime very much in the public domain it was felt the time was right to examine knife crime prosecution. This was in line with a risk based method of selection of topics for inspection.
The Inspectorate takes an evidence based approach and 440 individual cases were examined in some detail (between 1 April 2009 and 31 March 2010). In addition extensive interviews were conducted with COPFS staff, criminal justice partners and sheriffs.
Our overarching conclusion was that there was very high compliance (by COPFS) with the policy laid down by the Lord Advocate. We did take issue with decisions not to proceed in 1.5% of cases and we disagreed with the choice of forum (or court) in 4% of cases, these latter were, however, still prosecuted.
We made six recommendations in total designed as an aid to improvement including ensuring that the Case Marking Guidance (in-house instructions to Fiscals) was checked against the general guidance and that there was regular monitoring of compliance with the provisions of the knife crime guidance.
The Lord Advocate welcomed the report and accepted the findings. It was followed two weeks later by an announcement by the Lord Advocate of a further strengthening of knife crime policy including new policies in relation to possession of knives on licensed premises, public transport and bus or train stations and new bail opposition provisions.