Publication - Research and analysis

Investigation and prosecution of sheriff solemn cases: thematic review

Published: 19 Jul 2019
Directorate:
Justice Directorate
Part of:
Law and order
ISBN:
9781839600241

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

Investigation and prosecution of sheriff solemn cases: thematic review
Chapter 5 – Analysis Of Reforms

Chapter 5 – Analysis Of Reforms

52. We examined the key measures implemented by the reforms to ascertain if COPFS was complying with their statutory duties and whether the objectives of the reforms were being achieved.

Case Preparation

53. Key to effective and efficient use of the sheriff solemn courts is preparation. The additional time between the service of the indictment and the first diet and the obligation to provide a detailed account of the state of preparation in the written record was intended to result in more focus on front loading resulting in better prepared cases by the first diet.

54. Of the 91 cases further lines of enquires were instructed by the case preparer or SLM in 44 cases and supplementary statements from the victim or witness (es) were requested in 26. There were a variety of reasons why additional enquiries/supplementary statements were necessary, some were very case specific, but there were some recurring themes.

  • By far the most common reason (16 cases) was to obtain information on the nature/extent of injuries sustained from medical personnel/medical records or the victim.
  • 10 required additional information on 999 calls.
  • In five it was to establish whether there were any additional victims; four involved sexual crimes and one was an offence of domestic abuse.
  • In five it was to clarify/obtain, at least in part, further information requested by the accused's representative.

55. Of the 26 cases where supplementary statements were requested, 11 involved sexual crimes or offences of domestic abuse; seven were obtained from victims.

56. One indicator of how well the cases are prepared is the number of Section 67 notices required to add productions, labels or witnesses.

Section 67 Notices

What we found

57. Of the 91 cases, there was one or more Section 67 notice in 34 (37%) cases. In 16 of the 34 cases, almost half, the proceedings were subject to custody time scales. In 13 there was a direct correlation between the additional enquiries and the evidence added by section 67.

58. Of evidence added by a Section 67 notice there were some recurring themes:

  • Transcripts of interviews of the accused or of joint investigative interviews of child witnesses (five cases)
  • Transcripts of 999 call evidence (four cases)
  • VIPER reports (five cases)
  • Forensic/Fingerprint reports (five cases)

59. While Section 67 notices should not be used to add essential evidence that should be routinely obtained at the outset, in certain circumstances, it cannot be avoided due to the late submission of reports from other organisations or late requests from the defence. In one case photos and medical information was added at the request of the co-accused and in another the evidence, following the arrest of a co-accused, required amended forensic and fingerprint reports.

60. Overall productions or witnesses were added by a Section 67 notice in just over a third of the cases with in the majority of cases only one notice being required.

What we heard

61. As no statistics are retained on the number of Section 67 notices lodged, we were unable to compare our findings with an average number of notices used prior to the reforms but most prosecutors reported that the number of Section 67 notices have decreased.

Communication between the Prosecution and Defence

62. A key component of the reforms was to improve communication between the prosecution and defence prior to the first diet with a focus on agreeing non-contentious evidence and resolving cases at the earliest possible stage. The reforms placed an obligation on the prosecutor and the accused's legal representative to communicate with each other within 14 days of service of an indictment and submit a written record with the court no later than two court days before the first diet.[24]

63. To encourage early engagement COPFS produced two letters – one to be issued when the case is allocated to a case preparer and the second when the indictment is served.

  • The first letter provides contact details of the case preparer and the SLM and invites the accused's legal representative to make contact if there is any prospect of a Section 76 plea or any other matters that may assist in reaching an early resolution.
  • The second letter provides contact details of the first diet depute (where known) and the SLM and invites the accused's legal representative to make contact if there is any possibility of a plea; any reason why the case cannot be continued to trial; any outstanding disclosure issues or preliminary issues; and any evidence that can be agreed.

64. We examined whether the second letter was being issued and the extent/nature of the communication that had taken place within 14 days of service of the indictment.

What we found

65. For the 18 cases where a Section 76 plea was accepted there was no need to issue the second letter.

66. Of the remaining 73 cases:

  • In 54 (74%) a letter was sent when the indictment was served.
  • In 13 there was no record of the letter being issued. The indictment was sent with a brief covering letter. From analysis of the written records, we ascertained:
    • In six there had been some communication with the accused's representative that occurred after the 14 day period.
    • In three some other form of communication took place within the 14 day period.
    • In three the prosecutor had left messages for the accused's representative to make contact. If there was any subsequent communication, it took place after the 14 day period.
    • In one there had been contact by phone on various occasions but the dates were not recorded.
  • In four, due to the indictment documentation not being retained on the COPFS IT system, it could not be ascertained whether any correspondence had issued. From analysis of the written records, we ascertained:
    • In two there had been contact but it could not be determined whether it took place within the 14 day period.
    • In one there had been email contact regarding possible resolution and agreement of evidence after the 14 day period.
    • In one a telephone message had been left for the accused's representative. If there was any subsequent communication, it took place after the 14 day period.
  • In one early correspondence from the accused's representative, indicating that the case may resolve in a plea, resulted in an email exchange between the SLM and the solicitor. The accused pled guilty to an amended charge at the first diet.
  • In one, a letter was sent after the indictment was served and a meeting took place both beyond the 14 days. The case resolved by a partial plea of guilty at the first diet.

Communication

67. Of the 73 cases:

68. We found that communication, beyond sending letters with the indictment, took place in 54 (74%) cases:

  • In 35, we found there was fruitful discussion on various aspects of the cases including potential resolution by a plea, agreement of evidence; disclosure; obtaining social work records and Evidence on Commission (EOC). The majority of which (74%) involved discussions regarding resolution by plea and/or agreement of evidence.
  • In 19, it was not possible to ascertain the content of the discussion from records or the written record.

69. For the remaining 19 cases, it was unclear whether there had been any discussion between the prosecutor and the defence although in nine cases the prosecutor had left a message for the accused's representative to make contact.

What we heard

70. There are a variety of approaches taken to engaging with the defence; some areas operate designated surgeries where a prosecutor is available at specific times to discuss cases; in others prosecutors pro-actively attend the local defence common room to facilitate discussion.

71. Prosecutors advised that early notification of contact details of the case preparer and first diet depute and a more pro-active approach taken by sheriffs to query the extent of communication at the first diet has encouraged earlier engagement. 64% of defence solicitors that responded to our online survey[25] reported there was better communication between the prosecution and defence.

72. Overall, there was a high degree of compliance – 74% – of the prosecution providing contact details and communicating on key issues when the case was indicted and/or before the first diet but given the statutory duty on the prosecution and defence to communicate within 14 days of serving the indictment there is room for improvement. While the issuing of letters with the indictment is unlikely, without other communication, to fulfil the intention of the statutory duty, they do open up channels of communication and should be issued in all cases where a legal representative is instructed.

Recommendation 1

COPFS should ensure that, where there is a legal representative, a letter providing contact details of the first diet prosecutor and/or the SLM and seeking engagement of the defence on key issues is sent when the indictment is served in all cases. A record of the extent of communication with the defence before the first diet should be recorded on the COPFS IT system.

Agreement of Evidence

73. The reforms placed emphasis on the defence and prosecution to agree as much evidence as possible.

74. There are two mechanisms for agreeing evidence:

  • A Joint Minute of Agreement (JMA)[26] – setting out any evidence not in dispute or agreed.
  • A Statement of Uncontroversial Evidence (SUE)[27] – setting out any facts that one of the parties assess are unlikely to be disputed by the other party.

What we found

75. In the 18 cases where the accused pled guilty by the Section 76 procedure the issue of agreement of evidence did not arise.

76. Of the remaining 73 cases:

  • In 34 a JMA was sent to the defence or a SUE was served prior to the first diet.
  • In 31 there was no JMA or a SUE served prior to the first diet.
  • In eight a SUE was served and a JMA was sent to the defence.

77. Of the 31 where there was no record of a SUE or a JMA:

  • In 23 the prosecutor had identified evidence that could be agreed in the written record or there had been discussion with the defence.
  • In five the cases were resolved at the first diet.
  • In two the prosecutor assessed that there was no evidence capable of agreement.
  • In one the accused died prior to the first diet.

What we heard

78. While in some areas draft JMAs are prepared and sent to the defence prior to the first diet, the most common approach is for the prosecution to serve a SUE with the indictment which is subsequently used to inform the content of a joint minute, if the case is not resolved. Prosecutors reported that greater scrutiny by sheriffs on why evidence could not be agreed was instrumental in securing agreement of evidence.

Key Finding

There was a high degree of compliance by prosecutors with their statutory duty to agree evidence.

First Diets

"The First Diet should not sound the starting gun for preparation, rather it should sound the bell for entering the final lap."[28]

79. The purpose[29] of the first diet is to establish the state of preparation of the prosecutor and defence for trial and the extent to which they have complied with their duty to agree evidence.[30]

What we found

Section 76 Pleas

80. 18 cases pled guilty by the Section 76 procedure prior to the first diet.

First Diets

81. Of the 73 cases that had a first diet:

  • 19 pled guilty
  • 28 had a trial fixed
  • 23 had an adjourned first diet fixed
  • In two a warrant was issued for the arrest of the accused
  • One case was discontinued

Key Finding

By the first diet 72% of cases had been resolved or were continued to trial.

82. Given that continued first diets are intended to be the exception we examined why an adjourned first diet was fixed in 23 cases:

83. Six were adjourned at the request of the prosecutor:

  • One was to make enquiries regarding the whereabouts of a co-accused
  • Following the arrest of a co-accused, one was to re-indict the case to prosecute both accused at the same time
  • Two were for productions to be added by a Section 67 notice
  • One was for a Video Identification Parade (VIPER)[31] to be conducted
  • One was for the accused to attend court following a warrant being issued after he failed to appear at the first diet.

84. Nine were adjourned at the request of the defence:

  • Three related to consulting on or obtaining expert reports
  • In four, the defence required more time to seek instructions and/or prepare and in one to also obtain disclosure
  • One was due to the accused not being brought to court from prison
  • In one there was no record of why it was adjourned.

85. Seven were on joint motion:

  • In two the reasons were not recorded
  • In one the prosecutor was awaiting witness availability information, the defence required to obtain instructions and a co-accused had instructed investigation of a possible defence witness
  • One was for possible resolution
  • One was for the defence to obtain legal aid and for the prosecution to trace the complainer
  • In one the defence requested an evidential hearing to be fixed
  • In one the defence requested further lines of investigation to be explored by the prosecutor.

86. One was adjourned by the sheriff for the prosecutor to disclose a forensic report and for the defence to consider agreeing evidence.

87. Of the 73 cases:[32]

  • 45 had one first diet
  • 14 had two
  • 14 had between three and seven.

88. There were a variety of reasons for multiple adjournments.

89. The most common were:

  • Difficulties involving a co-accused where the prosecutor was seeking to prosecute all accused at the same time
  • Absence of an accused or co-accused
  • Evidential issues such as seeking to admit the statement of a witness who was overseas and to debate an application to introduce sexual history or character evidence
  • To enable the accused to be psychologically or psychiatrically examined
  • To consider an application for evidence on commission
  • A change in legal representation.

90. In the main, the reasons for multiple adjournments first diets were not due to cases being ill-prepared but to progress legitimate further inquiries arising from discussion with the defence and often due to the absence of accused and/or co-accused.

What we heard

91. There was agreement from administrative staff, case preparers and prosecutors that the discipline of having to produce a written record detailing the state of preparation of cases has resulted in more front loading and better prepared cases by the first diet. 36% of defence solicitors identified having more time to prepare between the service of indictment and the first diet as a positive impact of the reforms.

92. Prosecutors have varying amounts of preparation time prior to the first diet ranging between 2/3 days to two weeks although in the latter model prosecutors deal with other associated work including warrant requests, correspondence and taking decisions on new cases. Most prosecutors advocated 7 days prior to the first diet as the optimum period for preparation. Court loadings also varied from between 6/7 to 15 cases.

93. Some offices operate a model of dedicated first diet deputes dealing exclusively with preparing and conducting first diets and in some smaller offices the prosecutor preparing the first diet court also deals with the subsequent trials. The combination of volume of cases, the logistics of court programming, leave and part-time working precludes replicating these models in some jurisdictions.

94. There is excellent communication between the sheriff clerks and first diet prosecutors with regular meetings to discuss court loadings/scheduling, prioritisation of trials, witness availability and potential problems with cases. The sharing of management information is key to the effective management of the first diet and trial courts. 55% of defence solicitors reported they had seen better scheduling of trials since the reforms.

95. Prosecutors reported a greater degree of consistency of approach where there were dedicated solemn sheriffs dealing with the first diets.

Witness Engagement

96. One benefit of the reforms is that witnesses only have to attend court after the sheriff allocates a trial diet. The onus is on the prosecution to advise the court on the availability of witnesses for the trial at the first diet. Prior to the reforms, COPFS established a Project Board to consider the most effective manner of obtaining information on witness availability, resulting in COPFS, together with Police Scotland, implementing the witness engagement scheme.

Witness Engagement Scheme

97. To engage non-police witnesses, the following process was implemented by the prosecution.

  • The system automatically sends out letters (five months after the accused has appeared in court in bail cases and 10 days post FC in custody cases) to all non-police witnesses to provide dates when they are unavailable to attend court within a specified time frame
  • If they fail to reply within seven days, where there is a mobile contact number, a text reminder is sent
  • For those witnesses identified as "essential" and who have not replied within 14 days, their details are passed to the Witness Engagement Team (WET) at COPFS, who contact them by telephone and/or email is attempted
  • If essential witnesses cannot be contacted within 21 days, the WET issue a trace request to the police asking them to make contact with the witness (es) and ascertain their availability
  • On receipt of a trace request the police should make inquiries as to their availability. If unable to make contact, the police are required to make two phone calls and a visit to each witness before submitting the report.

What we found

98. Of the 91 cases:[33]

  • In 51 trace letters were sent to the police for at least one or more witnesses
  • In 33 no trace letters were required
  • In seven only police witnesses were required.

99. Of the 51 cases trace letters were issued for 116 witnesses:

  • In 33 (65%) the police provided availability information or details of their efforts to contact the witness (es)
  • In 15 (28%) there was no record of any report from the police
  • In three (6%) the police provided a report for some of the witnesses.

100. Our findings mirror the national performance by the police in 2018/19 where they successfully contacted and ascertained the availability of 66% of witnesses.[34] It is acknowledged that some witnesses/victims are a hard to reach group but given the necessity of witnesses attending and the reduced number of witnesses that are now required to attend at court, it is a significant short fall from the 100% target that is required.

What we heard

101. There was unanimous agreement that the main reason cases are adjourned is due to witness difficulties – either not having sufficient information regarding their availability to attend court resulting in adjourned first diets or they are reluctant or hostile and do not attend at trial diets resulting in adjourned trials. Prosecutors advised that they spent a considerable amount of time tracing and chasing up witnesses.

102. The role of police liaison officers, who are co-located in some Procurator Fiscal Offices, was highlighted by many prosecutors as providing an invaluable service in tracing, contacting and securing the engagement of witnesses and went some way to bridge the gap where there was no availability information provided by the police in response to trace letters.

103. The provision of police liaison officers in the larger offices in each of the Sheriffdoms may go some way to improve police performance in this area.

First Diet Witness Reports

104. Advising the court on the availability of witnesses is critical to any decision to fix a trial diet. It is, therefore, important that prosecutors have full information regarding witness availability and any witness issues. All information on the availability of a witness is recorded in the COPFS IT system. The WET will also capture any relevant information in a note field on the system. All information on witness availability is pulled into a first diet witness report (First Diet Report) for the sheriff and jury teams. The report also provides contact history/attempts for those witnesses who have not engaged with the process.

What we heard

105. We were told that prosecutors were generally unaware of the role and work of the WET and that the information provided in first diet report was confusing and unclear.

Recommendation 2

COPFS should refresh the guidance on witness engagement including an explanation of the content of the reports.

106. As currently constituted, if the witness indicates that they are available throughout the dates specified in the letter, the report records their availability but does not capture any information recorded in the note field. For example, in one case the witness, who had confirmed his availability to attend on all dates, advised that he required a Polish interpreter. While this information was recorded by the WET in the note field, it was not pulled into the report and the first diet prosecutor was not aware of the need to obtain an interpreter.

Recommendation 3

COPFS should ensure that all relevant information provided by witnesses (whether they provide availability details or not) is pulled into the first diet report.

107. Further, in accordance with the guidance, the WET only record information if the police have completed all required inquiries for all witnesses in each case. Otherwise the entire response is returned to the police for action and no information for any witness is included in the first diet report. The intention is to avoid police engagement statistics being inflated by including cases where there has not been full compliance and to emphasise the importance of contacting all witnesses. While appreciating the necessity for accurate data and the need to obtain information for all witnesses, there requires to be a mechanism to enable information gathered for any witness to be made available to the first diet prosecutor. The failure to record information obtained for some witnesses is a significant omission in the first diet report.

Recommendation 4

COPFS should ensure that any information obtained on the availability of witnesses is captured and included in the first diet report.

Securing the Attendance of Witnesses

108. Given the importance of securing the attendance of witnesses, if the witness, having been requested to attend at court, deliberately and obstructively fails to appear or the court is satisfied that the witness is not likely to attend, the prosecution or the defence can apply for a warrant.[35] On arrest the court can, after hearing the parties, remand or release the witness with bail conditions.

109. Where it is anticipated that a witness is unlikely to co-operate and attend court, the prosecutor can also issue a citation requiring the witness to attend at the first diet. If the witness attends the importance of attending at the trial can be emphasised. If they fail to attend the prosecutor can seek a warrant.

What we found

110. We examined the cases to ascertain whether a citation was sent to any witnesses to attend a first diet or a warrant was obtained to secure their attendance.

Attendance at the First Diet[36]

111. There was only one case where witnesses were required to attend the first diet. It involved an offence of assault to severe injury and danger to life. Three witnesses were sent a citation to attend at the first diet – the victim and two essential witnesses following information from the police that the victim was fearful of reprisals and the essential witnesses were hostile. On receipt of the citation the victim contacted VIA and advised that he would attend the trial. His attendance at the first diet was then excused. The other two witnesses attended at the first diet and the case proceeded to trial.

Witness Warrants[37]

112. Witness warrants were obtained in two cases.

  • The first involved a charge of assault and robbery. At the trial an essential witness for the prosecution, who was also required for the defence, did not attend and a warrant was granted for their arrest. The witness had a number of outstanding warrants and was actively evading the police. The proceedings were eventually discontinued.
  • The second case involved charges of domestic abuse. Warrants were granted for two witnesses at the first trial diet. The witnesses were arrested and appeared at court and were held in contempt of court throughout the proceedings. The accused was found guilty and sentenced to 21 months imprisonment.

113. We identified a number of cases where the police had advised that the witnesses were hostile and non-co-operative but no citation had been issued to attend the first diet.

  • In a case of assault to severe injury, where there were counter allegations that were being prosecuted separately and the witnesses were known to be hostile there was no citation sent requiring them to attend at the first diet.
  • In a case of domestic assault to severe injury and permanent disfigurement the victim was not cited to the first diet despite failing to attend a VIPER parade.

114. Although both cases ultimately resolved by pleas of guilty, citing the witnesses to the first diet would have provided the prosecutor with an indication of whether the witnesses were likely to attend at the trial.

What we heard

115. We heard mixed accounts of the use of the provisions to require witnesses to attend at the first diet and/or seeking warrants for witnesses. In Glasgow, there is a dedicated prosecution sitting manager located at the court with an administrative member of staff and a police liaison officer. The police liaison officer assists in tracing witnesses and the sitting manager is extremely pro-active on seeking warrants if there is information that the witness is hostile or is unlikely to attend. A less pro-active approach was taken in other jurisdictions.

116. Given the consensus by all those involved in dealing with sheriff solemn cases that the main reason for cases being adjourned or discontinued is due to witness difficulties, borne out by our findings at paragraph 124 below, there is clearly potential to make more use of this provision to pre-empt difficulties at the trial and to place prosecutors in a strong position to seek warrants.

Trial Diets

What we found

117. Of the 91 cases:

118. 44 cases did not have a trial diet. 18 were resolved by a Section 76 plea, 23 pled guilty at a first or an adjournment first diet and three were discontinued before a trial was fixed. There are a further two cases which have never had a trial diet fixed.

119. There were 45 cases where at least one trial diet had been fixed. Six of these are still ongoing.

120. Of the 45 cases:

  • 31 had one trial diet;
  • 10 had two trial diets;
  • Four had three trial diets.

121. Of the 31 cases with one trial diet:

  • Ten were found not guilty or not proven;
  • Nine pled guilty on the day of the trial;
  • Five were found guilty;
  • Two were discontinued – one due to insufficient evidence and the other following the non-appearance of the victim;
  • Two cases are ongoing;
  • One was deserted by the court on defence motion following receipt of new information;
  • In one the accused failed to attend and a warrant was granted; and
  • One had a not guilty plea accepted.

Key Finding

79% of all cases were resolved by or at the first trial diet.

Two Trial Diets

122. Of the 10 cases with two trial diets, an adjourned trial diet was fixed in nine at the first trial diet and a warrant was granted due the absence of the accused in the remaining case. Of the nine that were adjourned six were primarily due to the absence of an essential witness (es) and one was due to the absence of the co‑accused in a case where the prosecutor wished to prosecute both accused together. One was adjourned by the sheriff due to a lack of court time and the reason was unclear for the remaining case being adjourned.

123. Eight of the nine adjourned cases concluded at the second trial diet. In four the prosecutor accepted a plea of not guilty or discontinued the case due to witness issues. Two pled guilty, one was found guilty and one was found not proven.

124. The remaining case was adjourned to a new first diet and remains ongoing.

Three Trial Diets

125. Of the four cases with three trial diets, at the first trial diet, there was a mixture of reasons for the adjournments including a lack of court time, a change of legal representative, for disclosure of CCTV evidence and witness issues.

126. In three there were pleas or findings of guilty and one is ongoing.

127. Of the 45 cases where a trial diet was fixed:

  • 14 pled guilty on the day of the trial;
  • 13 proceeded to trial (seven were found guilty and six were found not proven/not guilty);
  • Six cases are ongoing;
  • Five were deserted by the prosecutor following evidence from the complainer or witness (es);
  • Three were discontinued due to witness difficulties;
  • In three cases, pleas of not guilty were accepted – in one a plea of guilty was accepted from the co-accused, the prosecution could not trace the victim in another and in the remaining case a plea to a lesser charge was accepted following the victim indicating that she would not give evidence
  • One was deserted following the non-appearance of prosecution witnesses and the refusal of the sheriff to grant a further adjournment.

What we heard

128. Reduced court loadings mean that there is a real likelihood of the trial commencing rather than being adjourned which focuses the mind of accused. Trial deputes reported that following the reforms jury sittings are much more manageable and less stressful. The churn that characterised the system prior to the reforms meant that a case prepared by a particular depute for trial may well not be heard in that sitting or may not commence on a day that falls in the prosecutor's working pattern whereas the greater certainty that trials will proceed provides more opportunity for continuity and for part-time prosecutors to conduct sheriff and jury trials.

Glasgow Model

129. One area where the reforms have had a significant impact is Glasgow. Glasgow Sheriff Court has the highest volume of cases in Scotland with five jury trial courts available daily. The sheriff clerks and prosecutors agreed 15 was the optimum number of trials each week resulting in three trials for each court. The cases are prioritised and moved into available slots as trials conclude. With a team of seven prosecutors, the workload of the trial prosecutors is significantly reduced and the programme enables more straight forward cases to be allocated to less experienced prosecutors. The availability of courts and slots means that the accused cannot rely on the case being adjourned and "put off the day of reckoning".

Extensions to Time Bar

130. Scotland has one of the tightest time limit regimes among comparable jurisdictions. Of the 91 cases, there was an extension to the statutory time limit in only 15 cases. In only four of the 15 cases was the accused remanded. The relatively small number of cases where extensions were required indicates robustness in the systems, processes and procedures in managing the new time limits.

131. On examining the time lines for the cases[38] we found on average they were indicted and served 48 days prior to the last service date necessary to ensure that the cases are progressed within the time bar. This is provides a significant cushion for the prosecution and indicates that the cases are being progressed more expeditiously.

What works?

132. Feedback from all involved in the investigation and prosecution of cases in the sheriff solemn courts regarding the impact of the reforms was positive. Many attributed this to a cultural change largely driven by more pro-active judicial management and greater certainty in the system.

133. While the reforms have reduced churn and improved the efficiency of sheriff and jury business we observed significant variations on the approach/model adopted to preparing and prosecuting such cases across the various jurisdictions.

134. We identified various practices and approaches that contributed to providing an effective model to deal with sheriff and jury business. These included –

  • Having a dedicated cadre of sheriffs dealing solely with sheriff solemn cases
  • Providing a minimum of seven days preparation time prior to the first diet
  • Earlier notification of contact details of the case preparer and prosecutor dealing with the case has generated earlier meaningful engagement with the defence supplemented by proactive arrangements whether hotlines or surgeries
  • A proactive approach to citing witnesses to first diets and seeking witness warrants where there is credible information that the witness is unlikely to attend the trial
  • Manageable and agreed court loadings
  • Having a dedicated police liaison officer within the sheriffdom
  • Preparation of written narratives for cases where it is known there is likely to be a plea
  • Regular "lessons learnt" meetings with sheriff clerks.

135. Having a minimum of a week for preparation prior to the first diet is the lynchpin to enabling many other good practices to be undertaken.

136. While accepting that one size does not fit all due to geographical variations, volume of cases and different court programmes, we found models incorporating most or all of these practices worked well and there was positive feedback from staff within those teams. To maintain the momentum that has been achieved following the reforms, COPFS should seek to incorporate elements of good practice into a national model.

Recommendation 5

COPFS should seek to incorporate the various elements of good practice into a national model for investigating and prosecuting sheriff solemn cases that can be adapted for local variations.


Contact

Email: carolyn.sharp@gov.scot