Chapter 14 Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service
The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service ( COPFS) is Scotland's sole independent prosecuting authority which acts independently in the public interest on the authority of the Lord Advocate. COPFS receives initial investigation reports about crimes from the police, and all other reporting agencies in Scotland, and decides, independently and impartially, what action to take in the public interest, including whether to prosecute. We also enquire into deaths that need further explanation and investigate allegations of criminal conduct against police officers.
Key Strategic Priorities
The 'Strategy for Justice in Scotland' sets the following priorities:
- Reducing crime, particularly violent and serious organised crime;
- Tackling hate crime and sectarianism;
- Supporting victims and witnesses; and
- Increasing public confidence and reducing fear of crime.
Our operational priorities make it clear that prosecutors are targeting hate crime, domestic abuse, stalking and sexual offending, all of which involve significant equality issues.
Equality Implications of the Draft Budget 2017-18
Tackling hate crime across Scotland continues to be a priority for COPFS. COPFS has publicly stated its policy in favour of prosecution for hate crime offences where there is sufficient, credible and reliable evidence to do so. COPFS has invested staff resources to ensure that the victims of such offences can have confidence in reporting hate crime to the Police and are supported through the court process through our Victim Information and Advice service and through awareness raising campaigns and educational presentations.
COPFS recognises the work of the many charities and support groups who represent and assist victims of hate crime, and we continue to engage with such groups, schools and local communities to encourage reporting and to change attitudes towards hate crime.
The robust and effective prosecution of domestic abuse continues to be a priority for COPFS given the nature of the offending and the significant and enduring impact it has on victims and children.
The number of domestic abuse charges reported to COPFS by Police Scotland has increased significantly since 2013, largely due to the prioritisation and focus on policing this type of crime. Prosecutors dealt with over 34,000 charges reported by Police Scotland in the year 2015-16. Eighty-six per cent of charges reported in the last two years were prosecuted.
The number of rapes, attempted rapes and sexual assaults reported to COPFS that involve an element of domestic abuse continues to grow. In 2015-16, prosecutors dealt with almost four times the volume of charges as they did in 2011-12.
Pending legislative reform will change the way cases of domestic abuse are investigated and prosecuted:
- Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016 - introducing new intimate image abuse offence, a new domestic abuse aggravation, and new sexual offender orders and jury directions. Implementation is planned for Spring 2017.
- A proposed new domestic abuse offence to criminalise a course of abusive behaviour incorporating both violent and abusive behaviours but also coercive control behaviours not currently criminal. The expected introduction of this offence is February 2017.
These legislative changes will offer better protection to all victims of domestic abuse, the vast majority of whom are women.
Under the direction of the National Procurator Fiscal for Domestic Abuse, we will continue to ensure our policies are appropriate and to provide specialist training for staff to prosecute these cases effectively and to provide a quality service to victims of such crime.
Interpreting and Translation
COPFS provides interpreting services for all Crown witnesses who request this, and provides translation and transcription services to all witnesses and accused persons who require such additional support. The provision of these services ensures that people whose first language is not English are able to fully participate in the criminal justice process. The cost of providing such services continues to grow year on year, and especially after the implementation of the EU directive on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings in late 2013.
In 2015-16, the cost of providing such services was approximately £288,000. This figure only reflects the costs incurred for spoken languages and does not include costs for the provision of British Sign Language ( BSL) interpreters for Crown witnesses.
British Sign Language (Scotland) Act 2015
This Act received Royal Assent on 22 October 2015. The Scottish Government has committed to publishing the first BSL (Scotland) National Plan by 22 October 2017 which will cover all Non-Departmental Public Bodies, including COPFS. The Act is designed to promote and facilitate the use and understanding of BSL across the public sector in Scotland.
COPFS is a member of the cross-Justice Working Group on Interpreting and Translation ( WGIT). COPFS and Police Scotland jointly represent the Justice sector on the BSL National Advisory Group which has been tasked with creating the first BSL National Plan. Thereafter, all public bodies will be required to create their own plans to demonstrate how they will meet the requirements of the Act. The WGIT will drive forward work to comply with the National Plan for the justice sector. It is too early to calculate the cost implications of this work.
COPFS is a member of enei (Employer's Network for Equality and Inclusion), Happy to Translate and is a Diversity Champion of Stonewall Scotland - currently ranked 25th in their top 100 UK employers. Continued membership of such organisations in the current financial climate is indicative of COPFS commitment to ensuring an inclusive workforce, support for victims and witnesses and increasing public confidence in the prosecution service.
COPFS remains committed to advancing equal and inclusive access to justice for all communities across Scotland. We will continue investment in 2017-18 to promote equality and access to justice and endeavour to mitigate the negative impact of crime for some of the most vulnerable groups in Scotland, including people with learning disabilities, children and young people, and people whose first language is not English.
Email: Paul Tyrer