Chapter 1 – Introduction and Inspection Methodology
1. The Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland ( IPS) is the independent inspectorate for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service ( COPFS) which is the sole prosecuting authority in Scotland. The Inspectorate was put on a statutory basis by the Criminal Proceedings etc (Reform) (Scotland) Act 2007 (sections 78 and 79) and given statutory powers and responsibilities.
2. The IPS is committed to observing agreed policy on the principles of inspection including taking a customer focus, pursuing the purpose of improvement, being evidence based and publishing all reports.
3. All reports can be viewed on the Inspectorate's website at: www.scotland.gov.uk/topics/justice/ipis.
4. Knife crime in Scotland is not a new problem. Some writers trace the incidence of such violent crime back to the industrial revolution.
5. In the 1950s razor gangs made the headlines giving Glasgow the dubious title 'no mean city'. In the High Court of Justiciary Lord Carmont handed out exemplary sentences in the 1960s and these were seen by some as a deterrent.
6. In the 21st century knife crime continues to dominate the headlines, especially so in recent months with calls for tougher action including mandatory prison sentences for those who carry knives. Hardly a week goes by without the report of some stabbing, robbery or other violent crime with the use of a bladed weapon.
7. In 2006 in recognition of the seriousness of knife crime and its significance in Scottish society the then Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd QC asked Crown Office Policy Group to conduct a review of prosecution policy. Following consultation with criminal justice partners (and particularly with the acknowledged assistance of the head of the Violence Reduction Unit, John Carnochan) the revised guidance was issued to the Procurator Fiscal Service in 2006 and publicly announced at a Violence Reduction Unit seminar in Edinburgh on 22 May of that year.
8. There were three broad aspects to the new guidance:
- Police were to arrest and report in custody knife crime offenders so that they could be swiftly dealt with. If a plea of not guilty was tendered prosecutors would seek early court diets to ensure that the case was resolved as quickly as possible.
- Bail would be opposed by prosecutors where an accused person had a previous conviction involving the possession or use of a knife or for an offence of violence and received a custodial sentence for that violent offence.
- Prosecutors would place on petition with a view to prosecuting on indictment (that is, before a jury) an accused who had previously been sentenced to imprisonment for possession or use of a knife. In addition, there was to be a presumption in favour of prosecution on indictment of anyone charged with possession or use of a knife where they had previously been convicted of a similar offence (ie, even if they had not previously been given a prison sentence).
9. More detailed guidance was issued to staff in COPFS on that date and is contained in a document known as General Minute 2/2006 (hereinafter referred to as GM 2/06).
10. At the same time there were also measures in the Police, Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill doubling the available penalties for possession of knives.
11. Some five years on from the public statement by the Lord Advocate it was thought appropriate to inspect the arrangements for prosecuting knife crime in Scotland.
12. The Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland takes an evidence based approach to work and the methodology used in this inspection was strongly evidence based. Having looked at the policy and guidance in place we then examined cases with a view to identifying and highlighting good practice as well as for compliance and possible policy/practice gaps and, where appropriate, making recommendations for improvement.
13. We were acutely aware of the topical nature of our inspection as it took place against a backdrop of political debate about mandatory sentencing for first time knife crime offenders. We express no view about this.
14. In order to set our knife crime inspection into current context we met with a range of people and organisations involved in a variety of both preventative and enforcement work in Scotland and we outline these in Chapter 3.
15. No one with whom we consulted thought that the 2006 policy outlined by the Lord Advocate should be altered in its terms. Although much preventative work is ongoing there was unanimous support for a continued firm response to those offenders committing crimes with knives whether by carrying them in public or using them.
16. The main part of our work was in relation to case review and we examined some 440 cases via the COPFSIT system. All cases reviewed were reported by police forces to their local Procurator Fiscal in the year from 1 April 2009 to 31 March 2010. We followed up just under 10% of these cases by way of paper file review.
17. At present all reports from law enforcement agencies to COPFS are submitted electronically in FOS (Future Office System). Initial marking decisions are made and recorded electronically. For cases being prosecuted in court a paper file is created for the first court appearance and thereafter some aspects of case progress can only be gleaned from an examination of paper records. Although COPFS is working towards a full electronic case recording system this is not in operation as yet.
18. Our case review sample was drawn from around 10,000 reports linked to knife crime in that period. Our sample was therefore approximately 4% of the recorded crimes reported in that year (although with multiple charges and multiple accused on the same police report it is not possible to be completely accurate about the percentage size of our case sample). Thus our case review cannot be said to be statistically relevant but we consider it to be large enough to provide an indication of decision making around the country and of any emerging issues.
19. Full details of our case review including the parameters of the cases selected for review are found in Chapter 6.
20. The focus of our case review was on the matters highlighted by the Lord Advocate in 2006. Therefore, (although not inspecting the police), we checked the method of reporting and quality of information provided by the police. We also scrutinised the marking decisions in terms of decisions about the way offenders were prosecuted, the framing of charges generally and bail instructions for those appearing in court.
21. Although much of the policy and guidance is directed to the decision making process at the start of a prosecution we took an 'outcome focussed' approach and checked the progress of the case as much as we could by reference to the IT system and considered also the eventual disposal of the cases we reviewed.
22. Aside from the case review we asked to speak to representatives from each of the 11 COPFS Areas about everyday experience of applying the knife policy. We spoke to a range of operational lawyers ranging from senior managers or District Fiscals - in charge of individual Fiscal's offices - to senior deputes, all of whom provided a 'hands on' perspective of working with the guidance in knife crime cases. We noted some practical issues about some of the more detailed aspects of guidance that were flagged up to us.
23. At the conclusion of our review we contacted each Area Fiscal for comments on any cases that appeared not to follow the strict guidance on knife crime as outlined in 2006. At this time we also contacted the head of policy in COPFS to notify her of some discrepancies we discovered between some detailed case marking guidance and the overarching guidance contained in GM 2/06.
24. As required by Statute 1, the Inspectorate is obliged to have a 'user' focus. With this in mind we sought the views of a number of Sheriffs from all around the country about the way knife crime cases were prosecuted in terms of forum choice and bail opposition. We also asked Sheriffs if they were satisfied with the information provided to them about the crime for sentencing purposes. We are very grateful to those Sheriffs who agreed to assist us in this respect.
25. Indeed we acknowledge with gratitude the assistance of a number of individuals and organisations who assisted us in our research and preparation of this report including Detective Chief Superintendent John Carnochan, QPM, Head of the Violence Reduction Unit in Scotland; Assistant Chief Constable Campbell Corrigan, Head of Anti-Violence Directorate, Strathclyde Police; Willie McDonald and staff at the Interventions Unit, Polmont Young Offenders Institution and members of staff of the Justice and Communities Directorate of Scottish Government.
26. We record our appreciation also for the assistance provided by the members of staff of the COPFS who provided (and explained) data and who gave of their time in interviews and meetings with us.
27. Apart from compliance, the inspection considered whether the policy/guidance should be reviewed in light of findings.
28. We outline our findings in the case review in Chapter 6.
29. Our conclusions and recommendations are found in the Executive Summary which forms Chapter 2 of this report.