A major review of Scotland’s prosecution service has highlighted “serious failings” in the way victims of crime are supported during court trials.
A report by a cross-party committee of MSPs said the Crown Office and wider criminal justice system had problems with communication, delays and adjournments which left many victims wishing they had “never reported a crime in the first place”.
Published today, the report follows a six-month inquiry by Holyrood’s justice committee.
It praised the work of staff, but said there was no room for complacency in a “squeezed” organisation which is “just about managing”.
The committee said it was concerned about the lack of contact between victims and prosecutors during trial preparation and said it had heard from victims of crime who had experienced misinformation, delays and adjournments.
The report said: “The committee considers that this is unacceptable and must be addressed as a priority, and repeats its view that it is imperative that the Crown Office and Procurator
Fiscal Service (COPFS) finds more effective methods for passing on accurate up-to-date information about trials in real time to all stakeholders, victims especially.”
The report also called on the Crown Office to consider concerns raised about the erosion of prosecutors’ autonomy and discretion, the lack of preparation time and the consequences for morale.
Committee convener Margaret Mitchell said: “The committee heard many concerns during our inquiry. Across the board, witnesses identified possible improvements which could be made to how COPFS works and better serve justice and the public.”
The Crown Office’s 2017/18 budget is just over £111 million, which the committee said was a “significant real terms decline” since 2008.
Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC said: “It is gratifying that the committee has concluded that COPFS is an effective, rigorous, fair and independent public prosecutor.
“It states that, in general, the public in Scotland is fundamentally well served by the COPFS in that core role. That is, in large part, a tribute to the professionalism and commitment of the staff of the service.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government welcomes that the Committee notes that the public is well served by the COPFS and that it is a rigorous and fair prosecutor.
“However, there is no room for complacency and substantial work is already underway, taken forward jointly by the Scottish Government and justice agencies to find more efficient ways to manage the processing of cases and to better support the needs of victims and witnesses."