Majority of reviews into decisions not to prosecute carried out to a ‘high standard’, inspectorate finds

Written by Jenni Davidson on 17 May 2018 in News

The Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland has reviewed the Crown Office’s handling of victims’ right to review

Crown Office headquarters in Edinburgh - Image credit: Holyrood

The vast majority of reviews into decisions by the Crown Office not to prosecute a case were carried out “independently, thoroughly and to a high standard”, according to a report by the Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland (IPS).

Under the 2014 Victim and Witnesses Act victims of crime and bereaved relatives have the right to ask for a review of a decision by Crown Office not to prosecute a case or to discontinue criminal proceedings that have begun.

The IPS report on victims’ right to review (VRR) and complaints handling in Scotland’s prosecution service found that 91 per cent of the 57 reviews carried out so far had been done to a high standard and that the VRR process was “robust”, with reviewers overturning decisions not to prosecute where the original assessment of sufficiency of evidence or public interest was found to be incorrect.

The inspectorate also found that responses were “generally empathetic” and “where there was fault or poor service, it was generally acknowledged, often with an apology”, although 70 per cent of the responses were issued later than the target of 20 days after the application for review.

There were only five cases identified that had areas for improvement, for example, because they did not address all the issues raised or misinterpreted details of the case.

However, the report also identifies a number of areas where the Crown Office could improve its service to victims and sets out 11 recommendations for change.

These include creating a system for notifying all victims of decisions not to prosecute and providing understandable reasons for not prosecuting a case or for discontinuing proceedings.

Equality issues should be taken into account to communicate appropriately with victims with particular needs.

HM Chief Inspector of Prosecutions Michelle Macleod said: “Providing reasons for such decisions is essential to retain confidence and to deliver accountability and transparency to those whose lives have been affected.

“We found the COPFS [Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service] review process was robust with reviews conducted independently and thoroughly and reviewers overturning decisions where they found the initial assessment of sufficiency and/or the public interest to be incorrect or unreasonable.

“However, not all victims are notified of decisions not to prosecute.

“This policy has the potential, in some cases, to deny victims access to an effective remedy, in the form of a prosecution, if the decision is overturned."

In terms of complaints handling, the IPS found that 80 per cent of replies were good or excellent and that there was a “genuine willingness and commitment to improve the complaints handling process” in the Crown Office Response and Information Unit.

However, the IPS identified some areas for weaknesses, including that 30 per cent of complaints resulted from a perceived or real lack of service; use of jargon, formulaic paragraphs and defensiveness; and that learning from complaints was not systematic.

Macleod said: "We are pleased that COPFS has implemented a substantial number of the recommendations made in our thematic report, resulting in a more user friendly complaints handling process and improvements in the quality of responses.

“However, the lack of progress on implementing systems to identify trends and to learn from complaints to drive improvements and provide a base line to measure service performance is disappointing.

“We look forward to seeing progress made in this area by the newly established Service Improvement Board."

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