Chapter 1 - Background and Methodology
This is the second report of the Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland and has been prepared in conjunction with the Witness Service, a branch of Victim Support Scotland.
As part of our wider remit to conduct a thematic inspection of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service's response on victim and witness issues (including the operation of Victim Information and Advice) it was decided that it would be useful for the Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland in conjunction with the Witness Service to look at and evaluate the liaison arrangements between Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and the Witness Service regarding the provision of advice and assistance given to witnesses cited for the High Court and Sheriff Court.
Additionally the opportunity would be taken to look at and evaluate the arrangements made by Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service to implement the provisions of the Criminal Procedure (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2004 (following the review by Lord Bonomy) and the Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2004.
The report is based on evidence obtained in a number of ways including the use of questionnaires, interviews with relevant staff, consultation with relevant bodies and on site visits. A Reference Group consisting of the relevant criminal justice partners met regularly to provide advice and assistance to the Inspectorate team.
Chapter 2 - Witness Service and Victim Information and Advice - A Background
This chapter looks at the history of the development of the Witness Service and the Victim Information and Advice Unit in Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.
The history of the Witness Service from the early pilots in 1996 is traced through to their review and extension to all Sheriff Courts and now the High Court in Scotland. This development being based on a recognition during the 1980's that the needs of victims and witnesses had been largely neglected.
At about the same time the Victim Information and Advice service was developed (then called Victim Liaison Office) which was focused on the provision of information to victims and witnesses regarding the progress of cases.
We come to the conclusion that the development and the work of both organisations has had enormous significance in addressing the issues of concern about victims and witnesses which had become prevalent in the previous 20 years and we recommend that consideration be given to extending the service to the District Court and in particular the Glasgow Stipendiary Courts.
Chapter 3 - Liaison Arrangements - The System in Practice
Chapter 3 looks at the actual liaison arrangements as they work in practice between the Witness Service and Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service including Victim Information and Advice.
Feedback from the various parties largely obtained by questionnaires and on site visits is analysed in the chapter. Specific areas covered are the arrangements for referrals (and the information) which is relayed by Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service to the Witness Service and includes an analysis of how well the existing operational protocol works. Further the exchange of information is examined both pre-court days and on the court day itself (and indeed beyond). The availability of facilities and training is also considered and finally all organisations were invited to supply comments and suggestions for improvement.
Based on the information supplied from the various parties we have collated a number of good practice points and more specific recommendations. These include training, the supply of information to the Witness Service in non-Victim Information and Advice cases, recommendations on the exchange of information and the use of the Court Officer/Macer as a conduit for the passing on of information between the prosecutor and the Witness Service in order to provide witnesses in waiting rooms with updates on the progress of cases. Finally we recommend that the time is right for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and Scottish Court Service to revisit the joint statement and update it in line with recent developments.
Overall we were very impressed with the enthusiasm of all the various parties to make the system work and indeed good working relations seem to be the norm.
Although we do make some recommendations for improvement the system in practice does seem to work well and there is no doubt that the provision of a Witness Service fills a need which had previously gone unmet.
Chapter 4 - Diversity/Equality Issues
In this chapter we stress the importance of the Standard Police Report as being the main source of information on items such as language difficulties, disability, vulnerability etc.
On the race front the main thrust is the very robust prosecution policy of race crime (analysed in more detail in our first report) and the fact that witnesses who do not use English as a first language are a Victim Information and Advice category. This should in turn mean that the Witness Service is advised of their presence in court.
It would appear from current research that language needs are by and large being met but there is some doubt as to whether or not disability is flagged up in enough cases.
In our conclusion we indicate that the system should work well if the correct information is supplied at the outset by the Police and that thereafter the various links informing the various agencies should operate.
Chapter 5 - Bonomy Review, Vulnerable Witnesses - Legislation and Implications for Witnesses
Chapter 5 is a look at the implications of the Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2004 and the Criminal Procedure (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2004.
As the legislation is only beginning to take effect at the time of publishing our report it was impossible to carry out any evaluation of the actual impact so we looked instead at what had been anticipated by Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and the systems which had been put in place to deal with the legislation.
The chapter looks at the Practice Statement issued by the Lord Advocate on disclosure. We comment on the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service's response of issuing circulars and practice notes for staff informing them of the terms of the Crown's commitments in respect of the disclosure provisions and the fact that a training package had been rolled out to raise awareness.
We raise some issues of concern (as anticipated by the Crown) including the ability of the defence to challenge a witness if the witness deviates from the statement supplied to the Police and also to the guidance to Procurator Fiscals to be on guard to try and protect witnesses from undue harassment. There are some issues still in the air including whether or not witnesses will be aware of the fact that any previous convictions and pending cases may be put to them by the defence and how much information the defence may disclose to other parties such as a Crown witness's home address or place of employment.
We deal with the role of Victim Information and Advice in the new system such as checking on the availability of witnesses for court.
We comment on the huge impact that the Bonomy reforms have had on the High Court and the reduction on the number of witnesses who have had to attend as a result.
In the second half of the chapter we look at the impact of the Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2004 and the various special measures introduced by that legislation.
We comment on the Crown's reaction including a) training of staff, b) steps to be taken to comply with the terms of the legislation and c) issue of best practice guidance.
We look at issues of concern which at present are unresolved as the Act is only coming into effect in stages. One major issue is the unknown numbers of witnesses who may be affected by the Act and the implications this may have for the Witness Service and others.
We come to the overall conclusion based on the information supplied to us that all the various parties welcome the new legislation and are clearly actively engaged in joint activity to ensure its proper implementation and are indeed committed to effective delivery.
Joseph T O'Donnell
Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland