This is the thematic report of the Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland (IPS) on the inspection of the International Co-operation Unit (ICU).
ICU is the specialist Unit within Crown Office and the Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) that leads in extradition and Mutual Legal Assistance work.
International co-operation is a priority for all involved in keeping communities safe and ICU has a critical role in the investigation and prosecution of terrorism and serious crime.
This report focuses on all aspects of the work of the Unit including case-related issues. It has looked to identify and comment on strengths as well as any weaknesses.
The strategic decision to move towards greater specialisation in COPFS in recent years and the creation of specialist units to investigate and prosecute certain types of crime has enabled a body of expertise and, in some areas, excellence to develop and flourish. This includes ICU which was established to tackle and facilitate the prosecution of those who commit crime across jurisdictional boundaries, particularly in dealing with requests for persons to be extradited abroad.
Within the international arena contacts and reputation are of the utmost importance. Among international co-operation circles in Europe and the rest of the world, Scotland is highly regarded and widely respected. Providing effective and timeous assistance to a foreign authority is critical in ensuring reciprocal assistance when it is required. Overall, ICU is held in high regard by the numerous authorities and organisations who work in the international field, including the judiciary.
Following the restructuring of COPFS into four Federations, the best model for liaison and interaction between the Federations and ICU requires to be addressed. There are currently different models operating within the operational Federations and the role of International Co-operation Resource Deputes (ICRDs) is no longer clear.
A debate and decision on whether ICRDs are still relevant and effective in the new COPFS structure requires to be undertaken. If ICRDs are to be retained, there are a number of areas of best practice identified in the report that should be progressed to ensure that they are an effective resource.
While the work and expertise of ICU are internationally recognised, there is a lack of awareness by many COPFS colleagues on the role and remit of ICU. In particular, there is a lack of understanding by some prosecutors on the legalities of obtaining, reviewing and withdrawing European or international warrants. This requires to be addressed and in particular, safeguards should be introduced to ensure that domestic warrants are not withdrawn in cases where a European or international warrant has been granted, without an instruction from Crown Counsel.
The electronic recording system used by ICU is largely reliant on manual inputs and as a result the data recorded is not comprehensive, accurate or reliable. This provides a significant management information gap, impacting on the ability of ICU to manage, monitor and prioritise their caseload. This is most noticeable in dealing with incoming Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) requests where much of the work is allocated to the Federations to progress. The absence of monitoring has resulted in periods of unexplained delay in responding to some of these requests.