Prosecutors warn budget cuts ‘undermining’ Scots justice system

The Crown Office, headed by Lord Advocate James Wolffe, faces budget pressures, say fiscals. Picture: Greg Macvean
The Crown Office, headed by Lord Advocate James Wolffe, faces budget pressures, say fiscals. Picture: Greg Macvean
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Prosecutors have warned that budget cuts are creating a “huge risk” for the criminal justice system and putting “unsustainable” pressure on staff.

The Procurators Fiscal Society said resources were reducing at the same time as an increase in the level and complexity of serious cases, many of which involve historical sexual offences.

It warned there was an “ever-increasing reliance” on the goodwill of employees to progress cases.

And it said the ring-fencing of the police budget had not been matched in the Crown Office, creating a “disparity” which risked causing “inconsistent levels of service” across the criminal justice system.

Last week, the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) told the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) it needed to “up its game” in dealing with victims and witnesses.

Representatives of the Procurators Fiscal Society are expected to give evidence to MSPs on Holyrood’s justice committee tomorrow, alongside the SPF and the Faculty of Advocates as part of an inquiry into the work of the Crown Office, which is led by Lord Advocate James Wolffe.

In a written ­submission to the committee, the society says: “The cut in the COPFS budget needs to be ­considered against a real-terms preservation of the budget for Police Scotland. That ring-fencing of police resources has not been matched by similar protection of prosecution and court resources. This disparity is incongruous and risks inconsistent ­levels of service delivery across the criminal ­justice ­system and challenges the capacity of prosecutors and the courts to continue to ­deliver.”

The Society said that if the COPFS budget stayed the same in 2017/18, it would amount to a cut in real terms of 21.5 per cent. Meanwhile, the number of full-time equivalent prosecutors has fallen by nearly eight per cent since 2009.

It added: “We fear that, not only will our members bear the consequences of these increased pressures, but there will inevitably be an impact on the wider justice system and the service provided to the public.”

A Crown Office spokesman said: “Our staff are exceptionally dedicated and committed.

“We have a very good and productive partnership with our trade unions and we are working with them and our staff groups to put specific measures in place to address the issues identified.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Ministers are committed to ensuring the Crown Office & Prosecutor Fiscal Service is appropriately funded to work effectively and help keep our communities safe, and they look forward to seeing the outcome of the committee inquiry.”