The effectiveness of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) as Scotland’s independent prosecutor is to be the subject of a major new inquiry by MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee.
The Committee has today issued a call for views asking organisations and individuals for their opinion on the organisation and will start taking evidence in the autumn.
The Committee’s inquiry will look at the following:
- The effectiveness and efficiency of the COPFS, and how well it works with other stakeholders in the criminal justice system;
- Whether the COPFS has the resources and skillsets it needs to carry out its core role;
- The COPFS’s responsiveness to new challenges and opportunities including the evolving nature of crime in 21st century Scotland, advances in technology, and changes in the delivery of court services that may affect access to justice;
- How the COPFS protects and supports witnesses and victims of crime.
It will also look at the role and function of the Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland (the IPS is the independent inspectorate of the COPFS).
Convener of the Committee Margaret Mitchell MSP said:
“The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is absolutely fundamental to the operation of an effective justice system in Scotland. This is why this Committee has chosen to make it the focus of its first major inquiry.
“MSPs on the previous Justice Committee raised several concerns about the additional pressures that the organisation faced in recent times – including an increase in complex historic sex abuse and domestic abuse cases and new requirements required by legislation.
“The COPFS’s responsibilities towards victims and witnesses have also been increasing - and rightly. This has all taken place against a backdrop of tight budgetary settlements in recent years.
“It is likely these significant pressures will continue, so fundamental to this inquiry will be to determine if the COPFS has the resources it needs to bring offenders to justice, and is “future proofed” to deal with new challenges.”
The Committee is interested in hearing feedback on the following questions:
- Please outline your views on the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the COPFS in its core role of considering reports about crime from the police and bringing prosecutions. Are there ways in which the services provided by the COPFS could be improved – for instance, through increased use of technology, further reforms to criminal procedure, or better case management? If so, do those changes also bring risks, in terms of the overall interests of justice or of access to justice (bearing in minds the differing needs of people across Scotland; urban and rural communities, economically disadvantaged people, vulnerable groups, etc)?
- Please outline how well you consider the COPFS works with other stakeholders in the criminal justice system, so as to provide a “joined up” and complementary service that helps meet the ends of justice. Other stakeholders might, for instance, include the police, defence lawyers, the courts, the prison service, criminal justice social work, and third party organisations working with victims or offenders.
- Does the COPFS as presently constituted have the resources and skillsets it needs to carry out its core role effectively? And is it appropriately “future-proofed” – for instance to deal with new technologies available to criminals, changes in the overall profile of crime in 21st century Scotland, or withdrawal from the European Union? If not, what additional capacities does the COPFS need?
- How well does the COPFS respond to the needs of victims of crimes and to witnesses (especially vulnerable witnesses) in criminal cases and meet its legal obligations towards them?
- The Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland is the independent, statutory inspectorate for the COPFS. What is your awareness of the existence and role of the IPS and of its effectiveness in carrying out that role? How effective has it been in carrying out its role? Does it appear to have the resources it needs?
Closing date for submissions: Wednesday 19 October 2016.