Question reference: S6W-11841
- Asked by: Fiona Hyslop, MSP for Linlithgow, Scottish National Party
- Date lodged: 1 November 2022
Current status: Answered by Dorothy Bain on 9 November 2022
To ask the Scottish Government what action is being taken within the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service to ensure that families are always notified of details of trials in which they are personally affected, before any such details are made public.
The Family Liaison Charter for bereaved families sets out our commitments on access to information and liaison with the Procurator Fiscal and applies to any death reported to COPFS since 1 September 2016.
Bereaved families are provided with the assistance of a Victim Information and Advice (VIA) officer who will offer a personal meeting initially followed by contact every 6 weeks to update or will otherwise communicate according to the needs and wishes of the family. This continues for the duration of the investigation. If at any stage there is a significant development, contact will be made immediately with the family to advise them unless this would be likely to prejudice any potential prosecution.
Bereaved families are entitled to expect COPFS staff who are involved in the process of investigation, preparation and prosecution of criminal proceedings to respond appropriately to their needs, to answer questions which they may have and to keep them informed of progress. Throughout the court process COPFS staff will do their best to ensure family members understand what is happening in court and in every homicide case we aim to invite families to meet with the allocated Advocate Depute and VIA officer prior to the case calling in court for a Preliminary Hearing. At that meeting we strive to share as much information as possible with the families whilst preserving the sanctity of the prosecution especially where family members are or may be witnesses. Our staff at court do their utmost to ensure families are contacted immediately with updates of relevant information before this becomes publicly available in the media.
In December 2021 at the Criminal Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament I announced that COPFS would carry out a review of its VIA service to ensure COPFS can continue to deliver the high levels of support and advice to all victims and witnesses and their families and can advise that the VIA Modernisation programme which is led by a Deputy Crown Agent is ongoing and is seeking to identify and deliver improvements to our service.