Leader: Equip prosecution service for 21st century crime

The announcement of a major inquiry into the effectiveness of Scotland's prosecution service at first brings to mind recent controversies, such as the decision not to prosecute driver Harry Clarke over the Glasgow bin lorry crash.

Margaret Mitchell, chair of the Scottish Parliament justice committee, which will conduct the inquiry. Picture: Mark Sutherland

But instead, it is an exercise in assessing whether the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is equipped to deal with the challenges and changed landscape of the 21st century. And on that front, it is a necessary review of the criminal justice system.

The migration of crime from the streets to the internet has left police resources stretched to the limit, with the pursuit of online offenders forcing a change in strategy away from the more traditional aspects of policing. Chief Constable Phil Gormley has been very clear about this switch.

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It follows then that the prosecution service must be structured to respond to this development, if the justice system is to remain coherent and co-ordinated. This approach will also have to co-ordinate with sentencing policy and prison capacity, as a significant rise in historic sex abuse and domestic violence cases is experienced.

It can be no surprise that the Service has welcomed the review, because analysis is virtually certain to conclude that additional resource is required to meet new pressures on the system. The Procurator Fiscal Society has already warned the increase of complex casework is a “huge risk” to justice.

But the big question the review will prompt is how to fund additional resource when, as the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee chair has said, an increased workload in recent years has taken place “against a backdrop of tight budgetary settlements”.

If we acknowledge that our justice system is outdated, we have to be prepared to bear the cost of upgrading it. At a time when public spending continues to be heavily restricted, it will require difficult decisions to get the justice system where it needs to be. For the review to be anything other than a waste of time, its findings must be implemented.