13 February 2003

S1M-3893 Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): ... ... ...
The first item of business is a debate on motion S1M-3893, in the name of Pauline McNeill, on the Justice 2 Committee's report on the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service inquiry.
... ... ...
Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): When the convener of the Justice 2 Committee said that she had been doing extra time, I was somewhat alarmed, but I think that I know what she meant. Members of the committee did indeed do extra time.
The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is truly at the heart of the Scottish criminal justice system. If that system is to reach its full potential—as all members and people throughout the country want—that heart must be healthy. Our communities need faith that those who commit crime will be brought to book soon and in an appropriate way.
The Lord Advocate described the Procurator Fiscal Service as a "cinderalla organisation" that had been
"chronically underfunded for a long time."—[Official Report, Justice 2 Committee, 6 March 2002; c 1114.]
That is lamentably true. However, we must and should praise the dedication of Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service staff, who are chronically overloaded with work and use weekends and evenings to keep up with cases. That is not good enough for staff, the public or the police.
The committee heard distressing evidence from victims of crimes and their families, who felt let down by the system and revictimised. However, I recognise the progress that has been made in that area.
A number of unfortunate cases have been brought to my attention and I would like to speak about one of them. A former constituent of mine, who now lives near Inverness, was the victim of a brutal assault. The initial investigation went well and the perpetrator was caught and charged. However, when the case went to court, the accused received a minimal fine rather than the imprisonment that had been expected, as vital evidence was not produced on the day. Why? An inadequately supervised junior policeman and a fiscal who had never met the victim and therefore knew nothing of the severity of the victim's injuries were involved. In that case, a lapse in detail impacted on an individual.
Another constituent had a much better experience, but, unfortunately, that was in the Netherlands. Her son was involved in a car accident. He had pulled over, as his car had broken down, and another car had barrelled up the outside lane and run him over. He spent a year in hospital. The Dutch took the victim's mother across to the Netherlands and she stayed in hospital with her son at the expense of the Dutch for six months. When the case came to court, the mother sat with the prosecutors in the well of the court. She was paid to fly over to the Netherlands and the presiding officer invited her to give her view of the impact of the accident on her family. She could not praise the prosecution service in the Netherlands more highly. That is the standard to which we aspire and towards which we are beginning to move.
On another serious note, the committee had only anecdotal evidence about departmental performance. Statistics are in short supply. A key management theory nowadays is that what cannot be measured cannot be managed. It is not right for members to interfere with the administration of justice, but the Lord Advocate must realise that we will take a close and continuing interest in the administration of the justice system—in other words, in the processes of justice.
New people have been added to the system, but we must not expect too much too soon. In his book "The Mythical Man-Month", Fred P Brookes poses the question:
"How do you make a late project later?"
The answer is by adding staff, as existing staff must train the new staff. All the failings in our system need to be put right to ensure credibility. Only a system that treats victims humanely and with compassion can truly dispense justice. We must deliver.
10:29 Categories [Solicitor General for Scotland]

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