Chapter 4 – Partnership/Resources
198. At a national level, ACPOS represents the police service on the relevant national groups such as the Scottish Government chaired Witness Issues Group, along with working groups on Sexual Offences and on Domestic Abuse.
199. At a more local level although we focused on police and COPFS partnership relations, by definition they have to be seen within the wider local network of groups that jointly deliver services to victims.
200. These partnerships ranged from fragile and low performing to robust and high performing. In some ways we might expect to find good local working partnerships in smaller more remote towns where staff from the relevant agencies are more likely to know each other. In larger conurbations defining local can be a more difficult first step to developing and sustaining effective professional relationships.
201. In fact we found one of the most effective partnerships within Glasgow - the domestic abuse project described on page 40 and one of the least developed in a smaller rural town.
202. Where strong, these relationships were characterised in interviews with staff who spoke in detail about joint work generally and of specific cases. They highlighted issues that were successfully dealt with but also identified others where improvement was needed. In contrast, in other areas there was a much more vague awareness of other agencies and their staff with few and sometimes quite historic examples of joint practice.
203. This inspection is focused on how primarily police and COPFS work together to deliver The Strategy. Within that context, our findings are that this is a generally strong and effective relationship. The Strategy needs other agencies, particularly the voluntary sector, to work together effectively to achieve its aims. The creation and maintenance of these wider effective partnerships in localities across Scotland is a matter that the Scottish Government may wish to consider as part of its current review.
204. Resources were not suggested by police staff to be a particular barrier to providing victims with information or referring them to agencies who provide practical and emotional support.
205. Police officers that we spoke to across forces, whilst busy, broadly thought that organisational expectations of their updating victims were reasonable albeit the practicalities of achieving this were affected by the vagaries of shift patterns.
206. Managers also believed that updating victims was both important and achievable. In particular we were interested to see if busy urban policing environments differed in this expectation from more rural areas. In fact in one of the busiest, inner Glasgow, there was if anything an increased expectation of personal follow-up visits to victims. This was described as being a benefit from recent investments in community policing staff numbers.
207. Although policing faces some uncertain times ahead in predicting what resources it will have to deploy towards victim contact, the fact remains that a two or three minute phone call to update a victim does not represent an unmanageable task within a shift even if a personal visit is not always possible.
208. The growing number of people carrying mobile phones or using the internet extends the possibilities of using very efficient existing technology such as SMS messages and email. This was a matter we highlighted in our 2008 HMICS thematic inspection, Quality of service and feedback to users of the police services in Scotland 26. Progress in offering this range of options has been disappointing.
209. COPFS sit on a range of national working groups with the Scottish Government, other criminal justice partners and stakeholder groups focussing on a variety of issues which relate to victims. These include the national Scottish Government chaired Witness Issues Group, ACPOS working groups on Sexual Offences and on Domestic Abuse and the COPFS chaired Expert Advisory Group on Sexual Crime. COPFS maintain an appropriately high profile in this area and commits resources to ensure they are well sighted and have proper input to issues concerning victims.
210. Similar to our previous comments at Leadership (supra) we note that there is not a multi-agency partnership group at this level which considers issues relating to victims as a single strand rather than relating to either the wider witness concerns or a particular crime type. To a large extent the Scottish Government chaired Victims Steering Group (mentioned at Leadership supra) formerly provided this oversight. As The Strategy is considered for review and for the reasons we iterated previously, we would support the re-introduction of this group with a high level COPFS involvement.
211. On a more local level we observed a variety of local partnership groups relating to victims. In some districts there were quite active multi-agency groups eg MARACS27 including victim representative groups but in others any multi-agency partnership working was quite under-developed leading to lack of knowledge about which agencies in the voluntary sector existed locally. Where these groups existed there were different levels of COPFS involvement. We were advised this was at times as a result of resourcing and geographical difficulties rather than lack of commitment.
212. We heard repeatedly from both within COPFS and the police, and from a variety of stakeholder organisations, particular praise for the Glasgow Domestic Abuse projects and the effort put into the success of that by COPFS, the police and the other agencies involved. ASSIST (mentioned previously on page 39) was notable in that it received universal praise from all those who had contact with this project. ASSIST chairs its local MARAC and we note this was the only one in Scotland chaired other than by the police. The Domestic Abuse project was described as the 'Gold Standard' of partnership working and demonstrates what it can achieve. Both COPFS in Glasgow and Strathclyde Police have input substantial resources to this project and it is an example of the success of well structured, resourced and considered partnership working across statutory and voluntary agencies.
VIA - internal partnership within COPFS
213. We found on the whole a positive attitude and working relationship within mainstream COPFS to its 'information provision arm' VIA.
214. We did observe however some lack of understanding by mainstream staff of VIA processes and operational standards which resulted in an unintended lack of provision of information to some victims (see Processes below where we address this point in more details).
VIA - external understanding of unit
215. A number of victims and organisations acting on their behalf complained about information provision by COPFS but then proceeded to provide positive feedback about their relations with VIA and the information provision by them. This represented a misunderstanding that VIA was a separate entity from COPFS. This unfortunately perpetuated some misconception about the level of service provided by COPFS.
Enquiry Point - internal partnership within COPFS
216. As a new discrete unit within COPFS some 'teething' problems would be anticipated as the new service provision becomes established. We were advised some local offices had failed to initially understand the scope and remit of what the Enquiry Point should deal with and what should properly be referred back to the principal COPFS office dealing with the case. This at times resulted in callers being made to wait as a search was carried out for staff at the principal office to take responsibility for a call. At times this caused delays and frustration to staff, to members of the public and importantly in this context the victim.
217. During the inspection we were advised this was being evaluated and reviewed by COPFS (Strategy and Delivery Division).
218. While we received some negative comment from various organisations about their ability to contact COPFS to gain information about cases on behalf of victims it, would be difficult to assess the impact of the Enquiry Point at this early stage. This was not a focus of this inspection. We can say that the Enquiry Point does have the potential to make a marked improvement in service delivery to the substantial number of telephone call enquiries across the service.
219. The Enquiry Point itself has established itself within the COPFS structure and was nominated for an internal 'Excellence Award' in 2010.
Handover of responsibility towards victims from police to COPFS
220. We observed excellent working relations between COPFS and police at all levels throughout the country even where the multi-agency partnership relations were less well developed. This is not surprising when viewed in context of the inter-dependency of this relationship for each to deliver their core functions in the investigation and prosecution of crime.
221. In relation to the provision of services to victims however we have not seen evidence of discussion and agreement between COPFS and the police around the 'handover' of the responsibility towards victims on either the provision of information or support to victims.
222. We would have anticipated that this would be a matter that the Scottish Government in their role as lead agency for delivery of The Strategy would have interest in to ensure there was clarity, agreement and no gaps in service provision.
223. We found the current position to be loosely based on assumptions that police would (as the first agency involved with the victim) provide some immediate practical support and provide information and referral for other support services. The responsibility for information provision then passed from the police to COPFS at or around the time of the case being referred to COPFS for their decision. In some more serious cases, out with the remit of this phase of inspection, there is clarity around handover processes from the police (Family Liaison Officers) to COPFS ( VIA). (See processes at page 63). That clarity is useful for both staff and victims. While the resource involved in that transfer would not be necessary or appropriate for the vast majority of the cases being considered here the clarity around responsibility would be similarly useful.
224. COPFS has invested substantial resources in recent years to improve the position of victims and witnesses in response to The Strategy and other policies.
225. Most markedly this has involved the establishment of VIA. VIA is a distinct albeit integral part of COPFS which now employs approximately 100 staff nationally with a remit exclusively to provide for the needs of victims and witnesses.
226. COPFS is a relatively small organisation employing approximately 1700 staff and in that context the investment in VIA is quite considerable. That said the 100 staff cover all 11 COPFS areas. At times they are spread thinly- for example three VIA staff are employed in Highlands and Islands which covers a massive geographical area. This should be borne in mind when considering change in information provision across all victim cases and suggests these would need to be centred on an automated process eg using carefully worded template letters (or text or email contact).
227. The forthcoming review of The Strategy may well be an opportune time for fuller discussion of areas of responsibility for delivery of the various elements of it and where resources for this should best be invested.
Voluntary sector relationships and resources
228. In terms of voluntary sector groups, we principally made contact with VSS and Women's Aid groups as part of this inspection. As highlighted above, in some areas relations between these and other victims groups were less well developed.
229. This is important in that the outcomes for victims are likely to be improved where agencies have a good knowledge of other support mechanisms and referral between agencies takes place on this basis.
230. We also encountered some stark differences in resource and infrastructure between agencies that were attempting to deliver the same services in different areas. These were differences not only in terms of offices and IT equipment but in the availability of operational staff to provide core services. These agencies are often charities attracting donations and raising funds in a variety of ways. A number of these agencies also receive sums, sometimes quite large sums, from local or central government. Victims groups that we spoke to that relied on local authority funding in particular were concerned that this wasn't ring-fenced as Scotland enters a period of greatly reducing public finances.
231. We are conscious that we are in danger of straying into matters beyond the remit of this inspection but do so in support of the criminal justice system's need for victims to be properly supported. We consider that the Scottish Government as part of its review of the Victims Strategy could usefully assess whether the current patchwork of provision represents the best value that can be gained from the quite considerable funds that it and local authorities invest in voluntary groups providing victims services.
232. We are aware that there are other methods of engaging with voluntary sector agencies such as the clearing house or commissioning model used in Eire. It will be important in considering these issues to recognise that even within one sector, victims groups can have differing focii. Of note some groups base their activities on lobbying, some act as umbrella organisations for smaller local groups and some deliver frontline services.
233. We recommend that in reviewing The Strategy, that the Scottish Government assesses whether the funds provided both locally and centrally to victims groups delivers the best value for money.