Chapter 5 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 other reporting agencies and decides what action to take, including whether or not to prosecute. The Service also investigates deaths that need further explanation and allegations of criminal conduct against police officers.
Key Inequalities of Outcome
COPFS is firmly committed to advancing equal and inclusive access to justice for all people and communities across Scotland and to promoting an inclusive working environment for its staff.
Acting in the public interest, COPFS promotes and upholds the rule of law and the protection of human rights which contributes to reducing inequality in Scotland. COPFS upholds its duties under the Equality Act 2010 and contributes to making communities in Scotland inclusive, empowered, resilient and safe through its work to investigate and prosecute crime, including sexual offences, domestic abuse and hate crime.
Key Strategic Budget Priorities
COPFS supports the Scottish Government's National Outcomes in the National Performance Framework and the 'Justice in Scotland: Vision and Priorities' strategy. The Service contributes to delivering a just, safe and resilient Scotland in particular by:
- delivering high quality casework;
- improving its service; and
- supporting its people.
Equality Implications of The Draft Budget 2020-21
Staffing and Funding
In 2019-20, the COPFS budget was increased by approximately £5 million to £117.1 million. This funded additional prosecutors and case preparers to deal with the increasing volume and complexity of serious crime, including sexual offence cases and domestic abuse cases. These offences are disproportionately committed against women, vulnerable adults and children.
The 2020-21 budget settlement will consolidate that position allowing COPFS to recruit additional staff in 2020-21 to respond to the increasing demands of its casework and to meet reasonable public expectations of service delivery.
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. The Scottish Government intends to introduce a new hate crime bill in 2020, consolidating and modernising hate crime legislation. It is likely that there will be some financial implications for COPFS when this legislation is brought into force but those implications are currently unknown.
Progress in tackling aspects of hate crime is measured by annual statistics published each year by COPFS. Racial crime remains the most commonly reported hate crime. There were 2,880 charges reported in 2018-19 (12 per cent less than the 3,249 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 comparative 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 5 per cent in 2018-19 (3 per cent in 2017-18) to 1,176. 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 remain almost unchanged, with a 1 per cent increase in 2018-19 (51 per cent in 2017-18) to 289. 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.
There were 529 religiously aggravated charges reported in 2018-19, a fall of 18 per cent compared to 2017-18 and the lowest number since 2004-05, shortly after the relevant legislation was introduced.
COPFS continues to prioritise giving the victims of hate crime confidence to report such crime 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 (VIA). 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 publicises and supports the annual Scottish Government hate crime campaign and the 16 Days of Activism campaign against gender-based violence.
COPFS recognises and promotes the work of the many charities and support groups, such as I AM ME, Epilepsy Scotland, Scottish Transgender Alliance, LGBT Youth Scotland, Interfaith Scotland and the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (SCoJeC) who represent and assist victims of hate crime. Staff engage directly 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 57 in 2019, involving 82 teams, and now culminates in a national final in June of each year.
By continuing a longstanding engagement with specific communities, COPFS continues to focus on breaking down barriers and providing reassurance that it serves all communities in Scotland. In the most recent Scottish Crime and Justice survey (2019), 75 per cent of respondents thought that 'everyone has access to the justice system if they need it.'
The Service is committed to dealing effectively with sexual offences. While sexual offences can affect both men and women, 95 per cent of crimes of rape and attempted rape reported to COPFS and approximately 88 per cent of crimes of sexual assault had a female victim in 2018-19. Dealing effectively with sexual crime is, accordingly, a significant equalities issue in relation to gender impact.
The number of sexual offences reported to the Service has risen significantly in recent years. There were 640 new High Court level sexual offence petitions in 2018-19 compared with 484 in 2016-17, representing a net increase of 32 per cent over that two-year period. This is positive in that it means that more victims are coming forward, that more cases are being prosecuted, and more perpetrators are being brought to justice. It is worth noting that this increase in sexual offence cases is set in the context of a significant increase in the total volume of High Court business over the same period (892 new High Court level petitions in 2016-17 rising to 1,200 in 2018-19 – a 35 per cent increase).
The Service is responding, and will continue to respond, to the increase in the number of sexual offence cases. It has supported the implementation of the Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Act 2019 which will allow children to record their evidence before a trial takes place.
The additional funding in 2018-19, allocated largely in recognition of the increased demands arising from the additional volume and complexity of sexual offences cases reported, has translated into additional prosecutors, case preparers and VIA staff.
The robust and effective prosecution of domestic abuse continues to be a key objective for COPFS given the seriousness of the offending and the significant and enduring impact it has on victims, predominantly women and children.
The number of domestic abuse charges reported to COPFS by Police Scotland over the last 5 years has stabilised at a significantly higher level than in previous years, largely due to the prioritisation and focus on policing this type of crime. Prosecutors dealt with over 29,000 charges reported by Police Scotland in the year 2018-19. Ninety per cent of charges reported were prosecuted.
Recent legislative reforms provide additional tools to police and prosecutors and will enhance the protection available to victims of domestic abuse. These reforms include the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, which came into force in April 2019, which introduces a new domestic abuse offence criminalising a course of abusive behaviour, which may incorporate both violent and threatening behaviours, but also coercive control behaviours not previously criminalised. The Act also identified a number of measures aimed at increasing victim safety, including strengthening provisions in relation to Non-harassment Orders, and a new aggravation in relation to the involvement of children in domestic abuse. COPFS has undertaken training of all relevant staff and issued appropriate guidance on the legislation.
Under the leadership of the National Procurator Fiscal for Domestic Abuse, the Service will continue to ensure that its policies are appropriate and to provide specialist training for staff, including in relation to new offences, in order that these cases are prosecuted effectively and to provide an effective service to victims of such crime, the vast majority of whom are women.
Interpreting and Translation.
COPFS provides interpreting services for all prosecution 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. In recent years, there has been a reduction in the number of cases being reported to COPFS which require interpretation and/or translation services (nearly 181,000 reported in 2018-19 compared with 187,000 cases reported in 2017-18).
In 2018-19, the cost of providing such services was approximately £239,000, and in 2017-18 was £224,000. These figures reflect only the costs incurred for spoken languages and do not include costs for the provision of British Sign Language interpreters for prosecution witnesses, which was £21,000 in 2018-19 (2017-18: £38,000).
The British Sign Language Act 2015 is designed to promote and facilitate the use and understanding of British Sign Language (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. To date, COPFS has created a dedicated BSL area on its public website, accessible via a BSL logo on the landing page, has created BSL versions of introductory videos and has promoted the use of a video relay system on its public website and for staff.
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 Scottish Government's BSL National Plan.
COPFS is a member of ENEI (the Employer's Network for Equality and Inclusion) and Happy to Translate.
In 2019, COPFS was ranked 51st, out of 445 organisations in Stonewall UK's Workplace Equality Index – the 8th year it has been ranked in the top 100.
COPFS will continue investment in 2020-21 to promote equality and access to justice and 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.