Crown Office and
Procurator Fiscal Service
The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service ( COPFS) is Scotland’s sole public prosecuting authority. It acts independently in the public interest on the authority of the Lord Advocate. COPFS receives 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. The Service also enquires into deaths that need further explanation and investigates allegations of criminal conduct against police officers.
Key Strategic Priorities
‘Justice in Scotland: Vision and Priorities’ sets the following outcomes and priorities:
- We live in safe, cohesive and resilient communities.
- Our system and interventions are proportionate, fair and effective.
- We will enable our communities to be safe and supported, where individuals exercise their rights and responsibilities.
- We will work to quickly identify offenders and ensure responses are proportionate, just, effective and promote rehabilitation.
The impartial and independent administration of criminal justice in Scotland underpins a fair and equal society which seeks to protect people and communities from harm. The Service’s operational priorities make it clear that prosecutors are targeting hate crime, domestic abuse, stalking and sexual offending, all of which have significant equality implications.
Equality Implications Of The Draft Budget 2018-19
COPFS is committed to taking effective prosecutorial action in relation to hate crime offences where there is sufficient, credible and reliable evidence to do so. The Service looks forward to the publication of Lord Bracadale’s review of hate crime although it is not currently known if there will be any financial implications for COPFS arising from his recommendations. COPFS continues to invest staff resources to giving victims of such offences confidence to report hate crime to the police. Victims of hate crime are supported through the court process by the Service’s Victim Information and Advice service. COPFS also invests staff time and resources into awareness-raising campaigns and educational presentations to raise awareness of individual rights and responsibilities.
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 Service is committed to dealing effectively with sexual offences. While sexual offences can affect both men and women, 94 per cent of crimes of rape and attempted rape and 87 per cent of crimes of sexual assault had a female victim in 2016-17. Dealing effectively with sexual crime is therefore important in terms of addressing gender inequality.
Sexual crime comprises 75 per cent of the Service’s High Court caseload. The number of sexual offences reported to the Service continues to rise significantly. This means that more victims are coming forward, that more cases are being prosecuted, and more perpetrators are being brought to justice.
The Service is responding, and will continue to respond, to the increase in the number of such cases. It has established four specialist High Court sexual crime units within the Service to supplement the specialist work of Crown Counsel within the National Sex Crimes Unit. It has implemented a new Victim Strategy, and will continue to engage with stakeholders with a view to continuing to learn from the victims’ experience of the criminal justice system. At the same time, the Service participates actively in the work of the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service’s Evidence and Procedure Review and other work directed to improving the arrangements under which the evidence of vulnerable witnesses is taken.
The robust and effective prosecution of domestic abuse continues to be a key objective for COPFS given the seriousness of the offending and the significant and enduring impact it has on victims, predominantly women and children.
The number of domestic abuse charges reported to COPFS by Police Scotland has increased significantly over the last four years, largely due to the prioritisation and focus on policing this type of crime. Prosecutors dealt with over 30,000 charges reported by Police Scotland in the year 2016-17, and 85 per cent of charges reported were prosecuted. The number of rapes, attempted rapes and sexual assaults involving an element of domestic abuse reported to COPFS remains significantly higher than in 2013.
A revised joint protocol between COPFS and Police Scotland, ‘In Partnership: Challenging Domestic Abuse’, was launched in March 2017, setting out the policies and approach taken and committing both organisations to a consistent and robust approach to tackling domestic abuse.
Legislative reforms will provide additional tools to police and prosecutors and will enhance the protection available to victims of domestic abuse. These reforms include:
- The Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016, which introduced an intimate image abuse offence, a domestic abuse aggravation, new sexual offender orders and jury directions.
- The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill 2017, currently progressing through Parliament, proposes a new domestic abuse offence criminalising a course of abusive behaviour which may incorporate both violent and threatening behaviours, but also coercive control behaviours not currently criminalised. The Bill also proposes a number of measures aimed at increasing victim safety, including strengthening provisions in relation to Non-harassment Orders, and includes a new aggravation in relation to the involvement of children in domestic abuse.
- The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016 which, when introduced in 2018, will provide the police with new powers to release a suspect on investigative liberation with liberation conditions which could include conditions to protect victims.
Under the direction of the National Procurator Fiscal for Domestic Abuse, the Service will continue to ensure that its policies are appropriate. It will also continue to provide specialist training for staff, including in relation to new offences in order that these cases are prosecuted effectively and to provide services to victims of such crime, the vast majority of who are women.
Interpreting and Translation
COPFS provides interpreting services for all Crown witnesses who request such support and provides translation and transcription services to all witnesses and accused persons who require this. 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, especially after the implementation of the EU directive on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings four years ago.
In 2016-17, the cost of providing such services was
approximately £312,000, an
eight per cent increase on the previous year. This figure only reflects the costs incurred for spoken languages and does not include costs for the provision of British Sign Language interpreters for Crown witnesses.
British Sign Language ( BSL) Act 2015
The Scottish Government published its first BSL National Plan in October 2017 which covered all Non-Departmental Public Bodies, including COPFS. The Act is designed to promote and facilitate the use and understanding of BSL across the Scottish public sector and ensure deaf and deafblind BSL users are fully involved in all aspects of life, including access to justice services.
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 helped develop the 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 the 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) and Happy to Translate. In 2017, COPFS retained the title of the top public sector employer in Scotland in Stonewall UK’s Workplace Equality Index for the fourth year in a row. As a Diversity Champion of Stonewall Scotland, COPFS ranked 13th in the UK Index overall. 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 people and communities across Scotland. It will continue investment in 2018-19 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 difficulties, children and young people, and people whose first language is not English.