Beleaguered Crown Office comes under scrutiny of Justice Committee

The effectiveness of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) as Scotland’s independent prosecutor is to be the subject of a major new inquiry by MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee amid worries it is overburdened.

The committee has issued a call for views asking organisations and individuals for their opinion on the organisation and will start taking evidence in the autumn.

The committee’s inquiry will look at the following:

  • The effectiveness and efficiency of the COPFS, and how well it works with other stakeholders in the criminal justice system;
  • Whether the COPFS has the resources and skillsets it needs to carry out its core role;
  • The COPFS’s responsiveness to new challenges and opportunities including the evolving nature of crime in 21st century Scotland, advances in technology, and changes in the delivery of court services that may affect access to justice;
  • How the COPFS protects and supports witnesses and victims of crime.
  • It will also look at the role and function of the Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland (the IPS is the independent inspectorate of the COPFS).

Convener of the Committee Margaret Mitchell MSP said: “The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is absolutely fundamental to the operation of an effective justice system in Scotland. This is why this Committee has chosen to make it the focus of its first major inquiry.

“MSPs on the previous Justice Committee raised several concerns about the additional pressures that the organisation faced in recent times – including an increase in complex historic sex abuse and domestic abuse cases and new requirements required by legislation.

“The COPFS’s responsibilities towards victims and witnesses have also been increasing - and rightly. This has all taken place against a backdrop of tight budgetary settlements in recent years.

“It is likely these significant pressures will continue, so fundamental to this inquiry will be to determine if the COPFS has the resources it needs to bring offenders to justice, and is “future proofed” to deal with new challenges.”

Commenting on the announcement, Gordon Jackson QC, Dean of Faculty, said: “I very much welcome the inquiry. There have been concerns for some time and the feeling that the decision-making processes are not as good as they once were, and that the frontline is struggling with the resources available.

“The appointment of a new Lord Advocate from outside the service provides an ideal opportunity for a full re-evaluation.”

Call for written evidence

Closing date for submissions: Wednesday 19 October 2016.