Bosses at the Crown Office have said they will seek to protect frontline legal posts from the cuts, with the reduction set to come from “natural turnover” rather than compulsory redundances, MSPs were told yesterday.
Low morale among the prosection service staff was a concern raised by Holyrood’s justice committee yesterday as it took evidence from the country’s top law officer, Lord Advocate James Wolffe.
Committee convenor Margaret Mitchell said a survey of prosecutors in Scotland found 40 per cent said they didn’t want to remain in the service, while 44 per cent complained their workload was unacceptable.
Mr Wolffe said there were “challenges and room for improvement” with the workforce but he insisted that the morale is moving in the “right direction”.
“The proportion of staff who wish to stay over the long run is very significantly higher than the civil service average.”
The Crown Office, which is responsible for prosecuting crimes in Scotland’s courts, is facing a real terms cut to its budget with savings of about £1.5m having been identified.
Crown agent David Harvie said that about £750,000 of this will be staff costs, which will equate to about 30 jobs.
“We will not be able to replace everyone who leaves, but we will be able to replace about half,” he added.
But frontline prosecutors will be protected, with more senior backroom roles among those which could go.
“It’s becoming increasingly challenging and options are reducing,” Mr Harvie added.
Expert witness and pathology costs have already been reduced by the Crown Office and these will continue to fall.
“There are a variety of different levers that we’re seeking to pull over a period of time,” Mr Harvie went on.
The Lord Advocate also said that prosecutors must exercise their own discretion when deciding which cases to take to court, even though national guidelines are in place. Bar associations in Scotland’s cities had cited the “leeching away of discretion” for prosecutors as a “serious concern”, stating that fiscal deputes may be forced to proceed to trial in cases involving domestic abuse or hate crime because of policy rather than their own professional judgment.
Mr Wolffe said: “It has always been the case that fiscals have acted within instructions and guidelines given to them by the Lord Advocate.
“One of the reasons for that is to make sure that there is consistency in the way the prosecution service operates across the country. I have absolute trust and confidence in the judgment of those who prosecute on my behalf up and down the country.”
The Lord Advocate said he has been sending “clear signals” in his policies for prosecutors to exercise their judgment.
“It is the privilege and also the burden and responsibility of being a prosecutor,” he said.