Investigation and prosecution of sheriff solemn cases: thematic review

The Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland's review of the investigation and prosecution of sheriff solemn cases.

Chapter 2 – Leadership and Governance

19. There are six sheriffdoms in Scotland[8] with 39 Sheriff Courts. In general, solemn cases are heard in the jurisdiction where the offences were committed.

20. The core business of COPFS is provided by three functions – Local Court, Serious Casework and Operational Services. Each function is overseen by a leadership board, chaired by a Deputy Crown Agent.

Local Court

21. The delivery and management of sheriff and jury business falls within the local court function and is achieved through six local court teams aligned with the six sheriffdoms.

22. The Local Court Leadership Board provides strategic and management direction. Its composition includes representatives from all areas of those responsible for the delivery of sheriff and jury cases including members of the Senior Civil Service and business managers. It sits monthly and a "health check" report providing an analysis on all Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), including the number and age profile of cases being investigated and prosecuted at sheriff and jury level, is provided for each meeting.

23. It is supported by a local court improvement committee, chaired by a senior business manager, which project manages a number of work streams aimed at improving and streamlining processes.

24. In addition, there is a sheriff and jury national forum, chaired by a member of the Senior Civil Service, comprised of around 20-30 members of all grades which provides a vehicle for staff to ventilate and resolve practical issues and share good practice.

25. The Local Court Leadership board is accountable to the Executive Board. The Executive Board, chaired by the Crown Agent, provides strategic leadership and is collectively responsible for delivering COPFS's vision, aims and objectives.

26. The Operational Performance Committee also has a role in overseeing COPFS performance and delivery of any KPIs, including those for sheriff solemn business.

COPFS Performance

27. Ensuring that criminal cases are effectively and independently investigated and prosecuted or have other proportionate action taken in the public interest is a strategic priority for COPFS.[9]

28. There are two key performance targets:

  • To serve 100% of solemn indictments within statutory time limits; and
  • To take and implement an initial decision in 75% of criminal cases within four weeks of receipt.

Processes and Procedures

29. Local Court also incorporates National Initial Case Processing (NICP) which has responsibility for the initial decisions for the vast majority of cases likely to be prosecuted in the summary courts. In relation to solemn business, NICP acts as a "gatekeeper" and refers cases, which are likely to be prosecuted in the solemn sheriff courts, to the sheriff and jury teams within each sheriffdom for an initial decision and, where appropriate, prosecution.

Sexual Crimes

30. There has been a continuing trend of an increase of sexual crimes prosecuted in the sheriff solemn courts. Each of the local court units has introduced a sheriff and jury sexual offence team comprising of specialist prosecutors to investigate and prepare such cases. Within the teams there is a system of accreditation. All SLMs and case preparers require to demonstrate competency by submitting cases to be assessed against required standards, complete sexual offences and taking evidence by a commissioner e-learning modules and attend a bespoke sheriff and jury training course.[10]

Training and Guidance

31. A suite of courses and materials are available for case preparers and prosecutors. All prosecutors conducting trials before a jury should complete two separate advocacy courses and a course for case preparers focusing on the investigation stage of such cases has been introduced. In addition a number of training videos covering various aspects of presenting evidence can be accessed on the desktop and guidance and styles are available on the COPFS Knowledge Bank.



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