Chapter 2 – Our Inspections
This report covers the period from the end of July 2014 to July 2015. During this period we published our thematic report on time limits and five follow-up reports on Organ Retention, Community Engagement, the International Co-operation Unit, the Knowledge Bank and the Health and Safety Division.
We are currently working on a thematic report on the handling of complaints and a review of Fatal Accident Inquiries.
Thematic Report on the Management of Time Limits
A thematic report on COPFS management of time limits in solemn cases was published in February 2015 (http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2015/02/1907).
Scotland has one of the tightest time limit regimes among comparable jurisdictions. Any failure to comply with statutory time limits resulting in a case not proceeding is likely to undermine public confidence in COPFS and, potentially, in the criminal justice system as a whole.
We found there was a strong cultural awareness within COPFS of the importance of ensuring that solemn cases are progressed and prosecuted within statutory time limits. However, whilst COPFS has a strong track record of compliance with statutory time limits, the combination of an increasing volume of serious cases, the changing profile of serious offending including a substantial increase in the reports of sexual crime and an increase in multiple accused prosecutions as well as the greater complexity of such cases, all in the context of reducing budgets, has impacted on its ability to progress High Court cases expeditiously. This increases the risk that cases may be lost if time limits are not managed effectively.
We found that there was a lack of coherence in the systems for managing time limits, resulting in unnecessary duplication of work at different stages of the progress of a case. We made 13 recommendations designed to provide assurance that the systems employed by COPFS to ensure compliance with time limits are effective, comprehensive and robust.
We are pleased to report that COPFS accepted all of our recommendations. The Inspectorate will undertake a follow-up inspection in 2016 to monitor the implementation and assess the impact of our recommendations.
Follow-up Report on Organ Retention
A follow-up report to the thematic report on Organ Retention was published in March 2015 (http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2015/03/8208). The thematic report found that the public's attitude to death and, in particular, the care of the body after death, has evolved, reflecting cultural diversity as well as an expectation of being involved and consulted on all important decisions regarding their relatives. It also raised awareness of the impact of medical advances which have significantly reduced the need to retain whole organs for diagnostic purposes and highlighted that the overriding aim is to complete any necessary organ examination before releasing a deceased's body to relatives.
The report made 10 recommendations designed to provide assurance that procedures implemented by COPFS were professional, effective and sensitive and that there were sufficient safeguards to prevent any further instances of nearest relatives not being informed of organ retention following a post mortem authorised by the Procurator Fiscal.
The Inspectorate undertook to conduct audits to test procedures governing organ retention both 6 and 12 months after the publication of the initial report.
The follow-up report, covering the period from July 2014 to end January 2015, found that there had been substantial progress in the implementation of all of the recommendations. The Inspectorate conducted an independent audit of organs retained by pathology service providers during that period and compared them with the parallel records held by the Scottish Fatalities Investigation Unit (SFIU) on their organ retention database. We found that records were consistent and that all recording and notification procedures had been followed. Only one organ had been temporarily retained during the period.
A subsequent audit, covering the period from February 2015 to end July 2015 found that no organs had been retained during that period.
The outcome of the follow-up report was extremely encouraging and reflected the consensus among pathology service providers that organ retention should only occur exceptionally.
Follow-up Report on Health and Safety Division (HSD)
The thematic report made 38 recommendations designed to improve the efficiency of HSD and the age profile of health and safety cases.
The follow-up report commented favourably on the introduction of electronic reporting, improved working relationships between HSD and specialist reporting agencies, investment in a wide-ranging training programme and early triaging of cases which have enhanced the effectiveness of HSD and increased the throughput of cases.
We highlighted continuing difficulties with obtaining accurate and reliable management information on HSD caseload and made two new recommendations intended to improve the quality of data held by HSD and support the prioritisation of cases.
Follow-up report on the Knowledge Bank
The follow-up report on the thematic report on the Knowledge Bank was published in August 2015 (http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2015/08/3023). The thematic report made six recommendations designed to improve the Knowledge Bank and enhance its ability to become a one stop shop for guidance, policy and practical advice.
The follow-up report acknowledged that all recommendations had been implemented and that the introduction of an upgraded internet has significantly strengthened the flexibility of Knowledge Bank and facilitated the provision of materials in a wide range of formats, including online DVDs and e-learning modules. Moving forward, responding to feedback via the interactive online facility should ensure that the Knowledge Bank remains a relevant, comprehensive and credible source of information.
Follow-up report on the International Co-operation Unit
ICU functions as a central authority in Scotland for all aspects of international criminal co-operation. The thematic review of ICU made 11 recommendations designed to strengthen the reputation of ICU, improve procedures relating to obtaining and reviewing European and international arrest warrants and introduce more accurate monitoring systems to measure key performance indicators.
We welcomed action taken by ICU to improve and clarify their working relationship with COPFS Federations, to introduce more rigour to the procedures for obtaining, monitoring and reviewing international and European arrest warrants, and to consolidate their credibility and highly regarded reputation in international circles.
We highlighted that our ability to assess the effectiveness of the progression and management of cases by ICU is constrained due to continuing difficulties with obtaining accurate and reliable information on ICU caseload and urge ICU to address the deficiencies of the existing system as a priority.
Follow-up report on Community Engagement
As the sole prosecutor of crime in Scotland, it is imperative that COPFS is seen to be representative of and responsive towards the diverse needs of all protected groups in Scotland.
The thematic report made 14 recommendations designed to improve the recording and outcomes of engagement activities and make more use of media and social networking to engage with communities.
To ensure compliance with duties imposed by equalities legislation and incorporate community engagement into a more comprehensive equalities' strategy, COPFS established the Equality Act Implementation team in 2011, headed by an Equality Champion.
A framework of Equality networks and Equality Ambassadors, to represent all of the protected characteristics, was also established to mainstream equality and inclusiveness.
We found that COPFS has employed a strategic and creative approach to engaging with the public using various forms of communication including COPFS website, social media and the production of a number of informative and impactful DVDs highlighting the work of the prosecution service and tackling sensitive issues including anti-sectarianism, racism, homophobia and disability hate crime.
Moving forward, COPFS has a strong platform on which to consolidate existing relationships and explore new channels of engagement.
Current and Future Programme
- Thematic review on the handling of complaints.
- Review of Fatal Accident Inquiries.
- Follow-up report on Managing Time Limits.
The programme is kept under review and altered as necessary to respond to any new challenges or developments which provide identifiable risks for COPFS and the wider criminal justice system.