HM Inspectorate of Prosecution: strategic plan 2022 to 2025

Strategic plan for HM Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland covering the period 2022 to 2025.

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About us

HM Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland (IPS) is led by HM Chief Inspector of Prosecution who is appointed by the Lord Advocate to inspect the operation of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS). COPFS is the sole prosecuting authority in Scotland and is also responsible for investigating sudden, unexplained or suspicious deaths and criminal allegations against the police.

IPS was first established in 2003, following an independent inquiry by Dr Raj Jandoo into the liaison arrangements between the police, COPFS and the family of Surjit Singh Chhokar, following the murder of Mr Chhokar and related prosecutions. One of the recommendations of the inquiry was that an inspectorate of COPFS be established, 'to introduce a measure of accountability, which is essential for public confidence'. After initially operating as a non-statutory body, IPS was placed on a statutory footing in 2007.


The functions and powers of HM Chief Inspector are set out in the Criminal Proceedings etc. (Reform) (Scotland) Act 2007. The role of the Chief Inspector is to:

  • secure the inspection of the operation of COPFS
  • submit a report to the Lord Advocate on any particular matter connected with the operation of COPFS which is referred by the Lord Advocate
  • submit to the Lord Advocate an annual report on the exercise of the Chief Inspector's functions, which the Lord Advocate must lay before the Scottish Parliament.

The 2007 Act makes clear that in the exercise of any of the functions conferred by the Act, the Chief Inspector acts independently of any other person. When inspecting COPFS, the Chief Inspector may require any person directly involved in the operation of the service to provide her with information.

As well as the 2007 Act, there are a range of other duties to which IPS is subject, including duties of user focus and co-operation with other scrutiny bodies under the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Act 2010, and duties derived from the Human Rights Act 1998 and Equality Act 2010.

Our purpose

Our statutory purpose is to inspect the operation of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

Our vision

Our vision is to promote excellence and confidence in Scotland's prosecution service through independent, evidence-based scrutiny.

Our values

Our values underpin our approach to scrutiny. We always seek to demonstrate our values in the way that we work.

Independence • Credibility • User-focus • Respect • Partnership

IndependenceWe act independently in all we do, providing impartial and objective scrutiny of the service provided by COPFS.

CredibilityWe deliver high quality, evidence-based scrutiny and report publicly on our findings. Our approach is rigorous but fair and proportionate.

User-focus The views and experiences of those individuals and organisations who are affected by the work of COPFS are central to our scrutiny activity. This includes victims, witnesses and next of kin as well as those who advocate on their behalf. We are also mindful of the experience of accused persons and those who represent them.

Respect – Respect for human rights is at the heart of what we do, and we support equal access to justice. We engage constructively with those we inspect, and we value the contribution they make.

PartnershipWe work in partnership with others. We support continuous improvement in COPFS, and we work with our scrutiny partners to support improvement across the criminal justice system.

Who we are

IPS comprises the Chief Inspector, Assistant Inspector of Prosecution, Legal Inspector, Business Inspector and a Personal Assistant. As at 31 March 2022, the staff of IPS was 4.4 full-time equivalents. The current Chief Inspector, Laura Paton, was appointed in 2019 to serve a three year term.

The Assistant Inspector of Prosecution and Legal Inspector are typically seconded from COPFS for two years. This arrangement allows IPS to draw on the current expertise and skills of the secondees as well as their familiarity with COPFS systems and processes. The secondments also provide a useful development opportunity for COPFS staff. Nonetheless, a business case to recruit an additional Legal Inspector was submitted to the Scottish Government in early 2022 with a view to boosting our resilience, independence and capacity.

The IPS budget is allocated annually by the Scottish Government. In 2021-22, the budget was £400,000, increasing to £425,000 in 2022-23 to take account of rising staff costs. Staffing costs typically account for around 95% of our annual spend. Our office accommodation has traditionally been provided in kind by COPFS but we anticipate this arrangement will come to an end in 2022-23 and are seeking new premises which will afford the opportunity to reinforce our independent status.

What we do

Our focus is on the quality of the prosecution service being delivered to the public in Scotland. Our inspection reports highlight what is working well as well as areas for development and improvement. In all of our work, a key objective is to understand the experience of those for whom the service is provided. We make recommendations that, if implemented, will enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of the service.

We seek to engage constructively with those inspected and to support them to deliver continuous improvement. We are mindful of the burden that scrutiny can impose on COPFS and seek to take a proportionate approach, minimising our scrutiny footprint where possible. We provide assurance to the Lord Advocate about the service being delivered by COPFS and our published reports help reassure the public that COPFS is independently scrutinised and held accountable, thereby enhancing public confidence in the justice system.

Issues for inspection are selected on the basis of risk and intelligence, and following consultation with the Law Officers, COPFS and stakeholders. The Lord Advocate has the authority to refer matters to IPS for inspection, meaning that a certain degree of flexibility in the programme is required to incorporate issues that emerge throughout the year.

We carry out different types of inspection activity, including thematic reviews, follow-up inspections and collaborative reviews.

Thematic inspections

Thematic inspections look holistically at an issue or a service end-to-end. These inspections can focus on specific types of case work or business approaches. In the early years of IPS, area-based inspections were carried out which reflected the structures and service delivery mechanisms within COPFS at that time. More recently, we have used thematic inspections to a far greater extent, reflecting the increased specialisation in COPFS and the functional nature of its current work.

Follow-up inspections

We also carry out follow-up inspections, to assess the progress made in implementing our recommendations. Follow-up inspections can provide information and reassurance to the Lord Advocate and the wider public that action is being taken in response to our inspection and that improvements in service delivery are being achieved. Due to our limited resources however, it is not possible to carry out follow-up inspections of all previous work. In 2021, we agreed a new process with COPFS which is intended to result in a more proportionate, risk-based and intelligence-led approach to following up previous inspections. In response to our recommendations, COPFS will provide us with an action plan which we will use alongside supporting evidence about implementation to assess the progress being made and to inform decisions as to whether a follow-up inspection is merited.

Collaborative inspections

We actively seek opportunities to carry out our inspection activity in partnership with other scrutiny bodies. The effective operation of the justice system cannot be achieved by any one agency – it is dependent on a range of organisations working together at a strategic and operational level. When appropriate, a similarly collaborative approach should therefore be taken to independent scrutiny, to ensure that shared outcomes are being achieved.

Inspection Framework

Our inspection activity is supported by an Inspection Framework, which helps ensure we take a consistent, professional and transparent approach to our work. Based on the European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM) Excellence Model, our framework has six themes – outcomes, leadership and governance, process, people, resources and collaborative work. The framework informs all of our scrutiny activity but is also sufficiently flexible so that bespoke key lines of enquiry can be developed for each inspection. In recent years, the EFQM model has been updated and one of our tasks during the life of this strategic plan will be to review our own framework in light of developments in EFQM and ensure it continues to be fit for purpose.

Terms of reference

In 2020, we began publishing terms of reference for each of our inspections. The terms of reference set out the issue we intend to inspect, the scope of the inspection, how we intend to gather evidence and the estimated timescales for the work. The terms of reference are drafted after initial scoping work has been carried out and following preliminary discussions with key stakeholders. By publishing terms of reference, we aim to increase transparency and promote awareness of our work. The terms of reference can also be used as a tool to engage those with an interest in the issue being inspected.

Current and previous scrutiny

Our inspection activity reflects the broad range of work undertaken by COPFS. Examples of current and previous inspections include:

Graphic text below:

Diversion from prosecution

COPFS practice in relation to sections 274 & 275 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995

The management of criminal allegations against the police

Emergency criminal justice provisions introduced in response to Covid-19

The investigation and prosecution of sexual crime

Fatal Accident Inquiries

The prosecution of young people

Victims' Right to Review

The investigation and prosecution of sheriff solemn cases

The management of time limits

Complaints handling and feedback

International Co-operation Unit



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