Faculty witnesses thanked for “insightful” evidence to COPFS inquiry

The Faculty of Advocates has aided an inquiry into Scotland’s prosecution service with “insightful” oral evidence to MSPs.Derek Ogg QC, and Michael Meehan represented the Faculty at Holyrood’s Justice Committee, which is examining the role and purpose of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).

They were questioned on various aspects of written evidence which the Faculty had submitted, and one area was a “blurring of the public interest with the perceived interest or expectations of the complainer”.

Mr Ogg said he believed there was a “perception problem” among complainers that the prosecutor was their person in court.

“The prosecutor has a different role and it is not readily understood…it is to prosecute fairly in the public interest. The prosecutor is not there to represent victims and get the case limping into court under any circumstances,” he added.

“There is definitely a perception difficulty, and Crown Office needs to advertise more freely; We are not a complainer’s solicitor, we are a public prosecutor”.

Both men lamented a lack of precognition in cases, with Mr Ogg suggesting that the move away from precognition in recent years had been “purely an economic decision”.

Mr Meehan said: “The essence of precognition is testing of the Crown case at an early stage. I think good precognition was worth its weight in gold. It is a great shame there has been a direction of travel from where key witnesses were precognosed to that not happening.”

He also referred to preparation of cases, stating: “In terms of non-homicide and non-sexual cases, feedback from speaking to A-Ds (advocates-depute) is that they have noticed a deterioration in quality of cases that come to them for the preliminary hearing stage. It had been anticipated the preliminary hearing stage would be fine-tuning, but there is more needs to be done now in cases that come across their desk than used to be.”

Mr Ogg touched on the decline in decision-making among prosecutors. He said many felt constrained against taking decisions in cases.

“I happen to think we have brilliant fiscals in Scotland…they are a real asset and should be cherished but that also means having trust in their judgments. I think the new Lord Advocate will loosen the reins somewhat in this,” said Mr Ogg.

At the end of the session, the committee convener Margaret Mitchell, MSP, thanked both men for the ”insightful evidence you have provided”.

View the evidence from 2h05m at http://www.scottishparliament.tv/20161115__justice

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