Chapter 18 Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service
The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) is Scotland's sole public prosecuting authority. It acts independently in the public interest on the authority of the Lord Advocate. COPFS receives reports about crimes from the police and all other reporting agencies in Scotland. It then decides, independently and impartially, what action to take in the public interest, including whether or not to prosecute. COPFS also enquires into deaths that need further explanation and investigates allegations of criminal conduct against police officers.
Key Inequalities of Outcome
The purpose of COPFS is to secure justice for the people of Scotland, including those at socioeconomic disadvantage. We recognise that some communities may have had poor experiences of law enforcement in the past which may reduce trust in our service. By delivering justice to all of Scotland's communities, COPFS contributes to improved public safety, reduced individual harm and enhanced economic and environmental wellbeing. COPFS contributes to the creation and maintenance of an inclusive and respectful society in which all people and communities live in safety and security with individual and collective rights being supported and disputes resolved fairly and swiftly. This includes tackling inequality and protecting human rights.
Key Strategic Budget Priorities
The 'Justice in Scotland: Vision and Priorities' sets the following outcomes and priorities:
- We live in safe, cohesive and resilient communities.
- Our system and interventions are proportionate, fair and effective.
- We deliver person-centred, modern and affordable public services.
The impartial and independent administration of criminal justice in Scotland underpins a fair and equal society which seeks to protect people and communities from harm.
Equality Implications of the Scottish Budget 2019-20
Staffing and Funding
The first sentence should read In 2018, there was an increase of in-year funding of £3.6 million and there is an increase of £5 million in 2019-20. This increase in funding from the Scottish Government is welcomed and will translate into additional staff being in post to deal, among other things, with the increasing volume and complexity of sexual offence cases, including historical sexual offending.
COPFS staffing levels between June 2016 and September 2018 reflect the changing nature of COPFS' business. In September 2018, the number of staff in the High Court function was 25 per cent higher than it was in June 2016 while the number of staff in the Local Court Function was 6 per cent lower.
COPFS is committed to taking effective prosecutorial action in relation to hate crime offences, where there is sufficient, credible and reliable evidence to do so. COPFS looks forward to the outcome of the Scottish Government's recently published consultation on amending Scottish hate crime legislation but it is unknown whether there will be any financial implications for COPFS arising from this review.
Progress in tackling aspects of hate crime is measured by annual statistics published annually in June by COPFS and the Scottish Government. Racial crime remains the most commonly reported hate crime. There were 3,249 charges reported in 2017-18. This continues the downward trend since a peak of 4,547 charges reported in 2011-12, and is the lowest annual total since consistent figures became available in 2003-04.
Sexual orientation aggravated crime is the second most common type of hate crime. The number of charges reported increased by 3 per cent in 2017-18 to 1,112. With the exception of 2014-15, there have been year-on-year increases in charges reported since the legislation introducing this aggravation came into force in 2010.
The number of disability aggravated charges reported increased by 51 per cent in 2017-18 to 284. This may be partially due to increased awareness of, and support for victims of, disability hate crime following concerns that it was underreported. With the exception of 2016-17, there have been year-on-year increases in charges reported since the legislation introducing this aggravation came into force in 2010.
COPFS continues to invest staff resources in giving the victims of hate crime offences confidence to report such crimes to the Police or third party reporting centres. Victims of hate crime are supported through the court process by the Service's Victim Information and Advice Service. COPFS also invests staff time and resources into awareness raising campaigns and educational presentations to raise awareness of individual rights and responsibilities in relation to offensive behaviour.
COPFS recognises the work of the many charities and support groups who represent and assist victims of hate crime and we continue to engage with such groups, schools and local communities to encourage reporting and to change attitudes towards hate crime and offensive behaviour. For example, COPFS organises a national public speaking competition each year which aims to raise the level of public debate in secondary schools on equality and diversity issues. The number of schools participating in the competition has risen from 12 in 2014 to over 80 in 2018, and now culminates in a national final in June of each year. In fact, 100 teams took part in last year's competition.
Sexual crime comprises around 65 per cent of the Service's High Court caseload. The vast majority of victims are women - 86 per cent in 2017. The number of sexual offences reported to COPFS has risen significantly in recent years, with a 50 per cent increase in the reporting of High Court level sexual offending this year alone. This means that more victims are coming forward, that more cases are being prosecuted and that more perpetrators are being brought to justice.
COPFS is responding, and will continue to respond, to the increase in the number of such cases. It has established a national specialist High Court Sexual Offences Team within COPFS. This supplements the specialist work of Crown Counsel within the National Sex Crimes Unit. It has implemented a new Victim Strategy and will continue to engage with stakeholders with a view to continuing to learn from the victims' experience of the criminal justice system.
The findings and recommendations of the Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland's review of the investigation and prosecution of sexual crimes by COPFS, published in November 2017, were welcomed and accepted. Work has been ongoing to implement the recommendations. At the same time, the Service participates actively in the ongoing work arising from the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service Evidence and Procedure Review and other work directed at improving the arrangements under which the evidence of vulnerable witnesses is taken. This includes the Vulnerable Witnesses Criminal Evidence (Scotland) Bill 2018 progressing through Parliament.
The additional funding from the Scottish Government, in recognition of the increased demands arising from the additional volume and complexity of sexual offences cases reported, will translate into additional staff members, with additional staff being deployed in the High Court function. This reflects the significant increases in High Court level sexual offending and the changing nature of the cases in our courts.
The robust and effective prosecution of domestic abuse continues to be a key objective for COPFS given the seriousness of the offence and the significant and enduring impact it has on victims. The majority of reported acts of domestic abuse are experienced by women (79 per cent in 2016-17), and children are also at risk.
The number of domestic abuse charges reported to COPFS by Police Scotland over the last five years has stabilised at a significantly higher level than previous years, largely due to the prioritisation and focus on policing of this type of crime. Prosecutors dealt with over 30,000 charges reported by Police Scotland in the year 2017-18. Eighty-eight per cent of charges reported were prosecuted.
A revised joint protocol between COPFS and Police Scotland 'In Partnership: Challenging Domestic Abuse' was launched in March 2017, setting out the policies and approach taken and committing both organisations to a consistent and robust approach to tackling domestic abuse.
Both recent and future legislative reforms will provide additional tools to police and prosecutors and will enhance the protection available to victims of domestic abuse. These reforms include:
- The Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016, which introduced an intimate image abuse offence, a domestic abuse aggravation, new sexual offender orders and jury directions.
- The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, due to come into force around the spring of 2019, introduces a new domestic abuse offence criminalising a course of abusive behaviour. This may incorporate both violent and threatening behaviours, but also coercive control behaviours not currently criminalised. The Act also proposes a number of measures aimed at increasing victim safety, including strengthening provisions in relation to Non-harassment Orders. This includes a new aggravation in relation to the involvement of children in domestic abuse. Work is ongoing by COPFS to ensure staff are trained and have appropriate guidance on the legislation for its implementation.
- The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016 which provides the police with new powers to release a suspect on investigative liberation conditions which could include conditions to protect victims.
Under the direction of the National Procurator Fiscal for Domestic Abuse, COPFS will continue to ensure that its policies are appropriate. COPFS will also provide specialist training for staff, including in relation to new offences, to ensure that these cases are prosecuted effectively. This will also ensure that COPFS provides an effective service to victims of such crime, the vast majority of whom are women.
Interpreting and Translation
COPFS provides interpreting services for all Crown witnesses who request such support and provides translation and transcription services to all witnesses and accused persons who require this. The provision of these services ensures that people whose first language is not English are able to fully participate in the criminal justice process. The cost of providing such services grew year-on-year, especially after the implementation of the 2013 EU directive on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings. However, with the reduction in the number of cases being reported to COPFS in more recent years, (207,000 cases reported in 2016-17 and 187,000 reported in 2017-18), there has been a corresponding reduction in interpreting, translation and transcription costs.
In 2017-18, the cost of providing such services was approximately £256,000, a 19.5 per cent decrease on the previous year. This figure only reflects the costs incurred for spoken languages and does not include costs for the provision of British Sign Language interpreters for Crown witnesses, which was over £30,000 last year.
British Sign Language (BSL) Act 2015
This Act received Royal Assent on 22 October 2015. The Scottish Government published its first BSL National Plan in October 2017 which covered all Non-Departmental Public Bodies, including COPFS. The Act is designed to promote and facilitate the use and understanding of BSL across the Scottish public sector and ensure deaf and deafblind BSL users are fully involved in all aspects of life, including access to justice services. COPFS will be covered by the Scottish Government's action plan to meet the obligations of Scottish Ministers but will be creating its own internal action plan to meet the duties for the justice sector. It is already working collaboratively with the other justice partners to ensure consistency of service across justice.
COPFS is a member of the cross justice Working Group on Interpreting and Translation (WGIT). COPFS and Police Scotland jointly represented the Justice sector on the BSL National Advisory Group which helped develop the BSL National Plan. Thereafter all public bodies will be required to create their own plans to demonstrate how they will meet the requirements of the Act. The WGIT will drive forward the work to comply with the National Plan for the Justice sector. It is too early to calculate the cost implications of this work.
COPFS is a member of enei (Employer's Network for Equality and Inclusion) and Happy to Translate. In 2018, COPFS retained the title of the top public sector employer in Scotland in Stonewall UK's Workplace Equality Index for the fifth year in a row. As a Diversity Champion of Stonewall Scotland, COPFS ranked 15th in the UK Index overall. Continued membership of such organisations in the current financial climate is indicative of COPFS commitment to ensuring an inclusive workforce, support for victims and witnesses and increasing public confidence in the prosecution service. The next Index results will be published in January 2019.
COPFS remains committed to advancing equal and inclusive access to justice for all people and communities across Scotland. It will continue investment in 2019-20 to promote equality and access to justice. It endeavours to mitigate the negative impact of crime for some of the most vulnerable groups in Scotland, including people with learning disabilities, children and young people, and people whose first language is not English.
Email: Liz Hawkins