Prosecution service at ‘breaking point’ over staff sickness

There were more than 16,000 absences recorded in the Crown Office. Picture: Ian Rutherford
There were more than 16,000 absences recorded in the Crown Office. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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The number of sick days taken by prosecution staff has risen by 20 per cent over the past five years, figures show.

Details obtained by the Scottish Conservatives show there were more than 16,000 absences recorded in the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) during 2015-16, compared to around 13,000 in 2010-11. The figures mean the average Crown Office staff member took more than ten days off last year, higher than the civil service average of 7.2 days.

The Tories said the figures, obtained through Freedom of Information legislation, underlined the need for the COPFS to receive more support to deal with the increasing number of complex cases relating to sexual offences.

The party’s community safety spokesman Oliver Mundell said: “These figures send a worrying signal that some fiscals are at breaking point, and while not all of these absences will be directly work-related, many of them are.

“The Scottish Government continues to make legislative changes without giving sufficient thought to the service and people that will need to implement them.”

Holyrood’s justice committee is currently undertaking an inquiry into the Crown Office and has repeatedly heard concerns being raised over increasing workloads.

In November, the annual civil service People Surveyfound just 57 per cent of those working for the Crown Office felt valued at work, while 15 per cent said they had personally experienced bullying or harassment in the past year.

A Crown Office spokesman said: “The average number of days lost per employee is decreasing but we are not complacent and will continue to work with our trade unions and staff groups to put specific measures in place to address any issues identified.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “An additional £7.2 million [has been invested] in our prosecutors and courts to allow better case preparation and speed up access to justice for domestic abuse and sexual offence cases.”