Emergency criminal justice provisions: joint inspection

Joint inspection by HM Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary for Scotland of emergency criminal justice provisions.

Key findings

There has been effective collaboration between Police Scotland and COPFS as well as other criminal justice partners to maintain essential criminal justice processes in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Across Police Scotland and COPFS, staff have worked at pace and in challenging circumstances to operationalise legal and policy changes.

Emergency criminal justice provisions have generally been used to good effect to support the continued operation of criminal justice processes while also complying with public health guidelines and limiting the risk of transmission of Covid-19 among criminal justice professionals, witnesses and accused persons.

The emergency criminal justice provisions proved particularly beneficial during the initial lockdown period and will continue to have value during the recovery period. There is also merit in considering which of the provisions should be retained in the long term.

Some of the innovations prompted by the pandemic have been long overdue, and there is a desire to ensure that progress is not lost.

There is general support for retaining emergency provisions relating to the use of electronic signatures and electronic transmission of documents. Most believe that they result in more efficient and effective ways of working, save time and money and, by reducing an outdated reliance on moving hard copy papers between organisations, are more environmentally friendly.

Views as to whether the emergency provision relating to remote, electronic appearance of parties at court should be retained are mixed. Some thought virtual proceedings were only appropriate in an emergency situation, while others were in favour of retaining and extending the use of virtual justice. Others had more nuanced views, and there was some support for hybrid models.

The emergency provision creating the ability to take a case beginning with an appearance from police custody in any sheriff court has been little used. There are circumstances, however, in which it could be useful.

The revised Lord Advocate's guidelines on liberation by the police during Covid-19 have positively influenced custody decision making. Efforts are being made to sustain the required cultural change in decisions about whether to release from custody or hold for court, and to safeguard the presumption of liberty while managing risks to communities and individuals.

The pandemic has presented opportunities for transformational change as well as challenges. However, care must be taken not to prioritise efficiency over justice.

A common view among criminal justice professionals was that a strategic vision for the long term future of the pandemic-related innovations was lacking. We are aware that this was being developed at the time of our inspection, but there is a need to ensure it receives broad support.

Many criminal justice professionals felt existing IT infrastructure was not currently sufficiently adequate to fully support the technological innovations prompted by the pandemic. This requires to be addressed.

While the emergency provisions have understandably been devised and implemented rapidly, there remains a need to consult and engage with stakeholders. In particular, there is a need to secure the buy-in of all criminal justice partners to ensure the success of new approaches. Failure to do so risks losing momentum and growing resistance to change.


Email: carolyn.sharp@gov.scot

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