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NO CONFIDENCE: Chair of Scottish Police Authority refuses to stand down, as board member criticises Holyrood scrutiny of governance, secrecy culture & lack of accountability at discredited Police watchdog

Chair Andrew Flanagan clings to power at Police regulator. AMID further calls to quit, the Chair of the embattled Scottish Police Authority (SPA) grimly remains in office and at the centre of a crisis which has eroded public confidence in the Police watchdog to the point only a clean sweep of the board may begin to repair significant reputational damage to the regulator of Police Scotland.

Facing further criticism from the Scottish Parliament’s Justice sub-committee on Policing late last week, Andrew Flanagan again refused to stand down from his £70K position as Chair of the SPA.

According to his declarations on the SPA website, Andrew Flanagan also holds positions on the Civil Service Commission, NHS Business Services Authority, London-based NEL Commissioning Support Unit, and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, positions he earns up to £75,000 a year in addition to his £70K salary as SPA Chair.

Flanagan’s decision to remain in office comes after members of Holyrood’s Justice Committee said in a report  they had “serious concerns”in the current SPA Board – which has responsibility for oversight and spending of the £1.1 billion Police Scotland budget.

The Justice Committee expressed “very serious concerns about the standards of governance” at the body and said it “does not have confidence that the current chair is the best person to lead the board”.

The report was issued after the Justice Committee held an evidence session with SPA Chair Andrew Flanagan & CEO John Foley after hearings at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit Committee heard details of Andrew Flanagan’s treatment of Moi Ali – a former SPA board member who spoke up over concerns about the lack of transparency & accountability at the Police Watchdog.

At an earlier meeting of the PAPLS Committee Moi Ali accused Flanagan of bullying, which led to Ms Ali’s resignation from the Police regulator after she publicly objected to plans to hold meetings in private and arrangements over the publication of board papers prior to meetings.

During the evidence session at the Justice Committee, SPA Chair Andrew Flanagan told MSPs he had issued a written apology to Ali on Tuesday of that week, however, evidence has since emerged the apology was emailed to Ms Ali  less than two hours before Flanagan was to appear before MSPs to answer concerns about harassment and transparency.

The Justice Committee have not yet commented on whether they plan to quiz Mr Flanagan further on his contradictory claims in relation to his communications with Moi Ali.

While Justice Secretary Michael Matheson has remained conspicuously silent in the crisis at the SPA, Matheson has quietly requested an inspection of transparency and accountability issues at the organisation be brought forward by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS).

The results are expected in June, however Justice Committee member Mary Fee MSP (Scottish Labour) branded Flanagan’s testimony to the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing “frankly inadequate”, adding: “We do not have confidence in his leadership.”

The report released by the Justice Committee says Flanagan’s repeated use of the phrase “I have to accept” when discussing his treatment of Moi Ali – does not reassure the committee that he has a “real belief and understanding” that the actions he took and “repeatedly defended were wrong”.

Speaking to the BBC, Mary Fee MSP – Convener of the Justice sub-Committee on Policing – said: “Though he was apologetic, we are not confident he accepts he was wrong.

“This issue remains unresolved. We will continue working with the Scottish Police Authority, and other justice stakeholders, until we are confident the governance of the SPA is significantly improved.”

Also speaking to the media, former Police officer & Justice Committee member John Finnie – also the Justice spokesperson for the Greens, said: “Andrew Flanagan said nothing at his most recent appearance in front of the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing which led me to believe that he has learned the important lessons necessary for him to lead the SPA.

“Mr Flanagan’s half-hearted apology, emailing Moi Ali around an hour before his appearance at the sub-committee, epitomises his approach to this whole sorry saga – looking out for his own self-interest rather than that of the Scottish Police Authority.

“In order to effectively chair an important public body it is vital that you hold the confidence of Parliament. It is clear from the views expressed by both the Public Audit Committee and today by the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing that Mr Flanagan lacks that confidence.

“He certainly does not hold my confidence.

“This ongoing situation continues to overshadow the vital work of the SPA and must be resolved sooner rather than later. I would ask Mr Flanagan to seriously reflect on his position.”

Giving evidence to the sub-committee, Flanagan was asked if he accepted there had been “reputational damage to SPA that it may not recover from”.

He replied: “I think we can recover from it, I think there has been some damage there. I think my apology to Moi is a start of that process, it is not the end of the process.

Responding to the Justice Committee’s criticisms of the SPA and their report SPA Chair Andrew Flanagan said: “As I have already done with the views of other parliamentarians, I and the SPA Board will consider this report very carefully over the coming days and reflect on its contents.

“As I indicated in my evidence to the Committee, I have publicly acknowledged recent mistakes without caveat or qualification. I also believe that in my time in office I have brought much improvement and clarity to the strategy, governance, sustainability, and relationships within policing.”

“I remain focussed on building a broad consensus around my continuing leadership of the SPA, and my contribution to a stable and collaborative leadership within policing as a whole.”

“Today, and in recognition of recent areas of contention, the SPA has backed my recommended changes to governance that will increase both the transparency of our meetings and the accessibility of information.”

“This will begin to address the concerns of stakeholders, and the inspection report of HMICS will provide a further opportunity to build on that.”

“I also look forward to further developing and broadening the Board’s approach with the appointment today of Nicola Marchant as the first Deputy Chair.”

It has since been reported in the Herald newspaper SPA Chair Andrew Flanagan did not share a crucial report on forensics with all his board members.

The SPA has control of forensic services – including DNA, drug analysis and scene examination – and Mr Penman sent the chair a “professional advice note” (PAN) on the subject.

The document flagged up possible reforms on a part of the Police service that has had to make efficiency savings.

Speaking to the Herald, a spokesman for HMICS said of the advice note: “HMICS received a letter on 31 October 2016, from the [SPA] Chair acknowledging the final version and confirming that it had been shared with all board members.”

The Herald further reported: “However, asked yesterday to confirm that Mr Flanagan had shared the advice note with all board members, a spokesman for the SPA said:

“The SPA members received briefing from their officers last August in which one of the options set out in respect of forensic services clearly reflected the HMICS advice note. The paper provided to members made clear that background papers available to them included the independent analysis and advice by HMICS in relation to forensic services.”

A senior policing source said it was a “fair assumption” that the advice note was not given to all board members at the time.”

Report from the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing: Justice Sub Committee on Policing Report on Governance of the Scottish Police Authority

1. The Justice Sub-Committee on Policing held an evidence session on the governance of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) on 18 May 2017.

2. It took evidence from Andrew Flanagan, Chair, and John Foley, Chief Executive of the Scottish Police Authority.

3. This was in response to the letter from the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice outlining its “very serious concerns about the standards of governance at the SPA”, following its recent evidence sessions^

4. The Cabinet Secretary for Justice has asked Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) to bring forward aspects of his intended statutory inspection into the state, efficiency and effectiveness of the Scottish Police Authority scheduled for 2017/18. The Cabinet Secretary has asked HMICS focus on transparency and accountability issues.]

5. Accordingly, HMICS is currently undertaking a Thematic Inspection of the Scottish Police Authority – Phase 1 Review of Openness and Transparency and is to report to the Scottish Parliament on 22 June 2017. The terms of reference are as follows:

The overall aim of this review will be to assess the openness and transparency in the way that the Scottish Police Authority conducts its business. It will specifically examine:

(i) the Authority’s decision on holding meetings in private and the publication of meeting papers; and also assess

(ii) the Authority’s compliance with relevant legislation, guidance and standing orders and the awareness and understanding of the Chair, Board members and SPA officers of these.

Introduction

6. This report outlines the views of the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing on the evidence heard at its meetings of 20 April, when representatives of Unison, the Scottish Police Federation and the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents provided evidence, and of 18 May, with the Chair and Chief Executive of the SPA.

Committee consideration

7. The 18 May evidence session focussed on the following decisions:

• to hold committee meetings in private;

• to not circulate to the SPA board members the letter from HMICS raising concerns about holding committee meetings in private; and

• the Chair’s letter to Moi Ali of 19 December, in response to her dissenting to meetings being held in private.

8. The Sub-Committee considered the decisions taken by the Chair and Chief Executive, the actions they took (or did not take) as a result of those decisions, and the impact on the effective governance and reputation of the SPA.

9. The Sub-Committee also considered the impact of the proposed actions to be taken going forward on the SPA’s governance, transparency and reputation.

Conclusions

10. The Sub-Committee shares the very serious concerns about the standards of governance at the SPA raised by the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee and thanks it for its scrutiny of the governance of the Scottish Police Authority.

11. The Sub-Committee agreed to write to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, copied to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS), outlining its views. The letter is attached at Annexe A of this report.

PAPLS Letter from the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to HMICS, 20 April 2017

PAPLS Letter to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, 12 May 2017

Letter from the Justice Sub Committee on Policing to Justice Secretary Michael Matheson:

Dear Michael: The Justice Sub-Committee on Policing held an evidence session on 18 May 2017 on governance of the Sottish Police Authority. This was to provide an opportunity for the Chair and Chief Executive of the SPA to address serious governance concerns raised by the Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee in its recent letter to you.

The Sub-Committee also took evidence from Unison, the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) and the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents (ASPS) on 20 April, when SPA governance issues were raised.

The Sub-Committee appreciates that HMICS is currently undertaking an urgent review of the openness and transparency of the SPA and that you are to appraise the performance of the Chair of the SPA. This letter is to inform both.

Openness, transparency and accountability

The Sub-Committee agrees with your assessment that the SPA “needs to ensure that the processes and mechanisms that it has in place are open and transparent’’^”

Many of the issues surrounding the openness, transparency and accountability of the SPA’s governance seem to have been created by the implementation of two of the recommendations in Andrew Flanagan’s Review of Governance, which was published in March 2016. These were that committees should be seen as working groups (recommendation 15) and therefore that their meetings should be held in private (recommendation 16).

In his letter to Andrew Flanagan of 9 December 2016, Derek Penman cautioned that the proposal for committees to meet in private might impact negatively on the openness, transparency and legitimacy of the SPA, as well as public confidence in its governance. Despite this, the decision was made for committees to meet in private.

In a previous evidence session, the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing heard that those representing police staff, officers and superintendents felt that this decision excluded them from participating in the decision-making process.

Craig Suttie of the ASPS told the Sub-Committee that superintendents “had concerns when the governance review came out”, whilst Calum Steele of the SPF said that holding private committee meetings “undermines the SPA’s legitimacy”.

In response to questions on engagement with the unions and staff associations Mr Flanagan acknowledged that he was aware that stakeholders were unhappy, but held the view that the level of engagement was sufficient, saying that “In the committee structure that has been set up, people can come and give evidence … the SPF and other staff associations and unions can come to those meetings”.[4]

The proposal that committees are to meet in public and to publish papers well in advance of meetings is a move in the right direction. This is good practice and it is difficult to comprehend why this approach was not recommended in the governance review.

There is a need for some items to be taken in private, and the Sub-Committee appreciates Mr Flanagan’s assurance that respectful open debate on whether items should be taken in private will be encouraged going forward.

Private committee meetings, issuing papers at the last minute, and reducing input from key stakeholders has damaged the relationship between the SPA and police staff, officers and superintendents. It has also raised questions within the police service and externally about the SPA’s accountability, transparency and legitimacy.

Although there is now a proposal for committees to meet in public, Mr Flanagan suggested that this was due to improvements in the information that is submitted by Police Scotland,rather than being in response to the impact private meetings have had on key relationships and the SPA’s reputation. It is essential to repair both.

As part of his review, HMICS is to “engage directly with the key stakeholders, including police staff associations and members of the media and others who have a specific interest in the policing of Scotland and who may wish access to SPA meetings and papers”.

The Sub-Committee would refer HMICS to its evidence session on 20 April with Unison, the SPF and ASPS and, in light of recent media reports, respectfully request that Mr Penman engage with COSLA during his review of openness and transparency.

Correspondence from HMICS

It is clear that Derek Penman’s letter of 9 December 2016 to the Chair, copied to the Chief Executive, was time critical. In it Mr Penman raises a number of concerns about the Corporate Governance Framework, which was to be agreed at the following week’s SPA board meeting. Whilst Mr Flanagan has now acknowledged that this correspondence should have been circulated as a matter of course, and has committed to doing so in future, the Sub-Committee explored the reasons for the 9 December letter not being circulated.

The Sub-Committee heard that there were practical issues which contributed to Mr Penman’s letter not being circulated immediately. The Chief Executive was out of the country, with the letter apparently not being brought to his attention during or after his leave period. The Chair received the letter “late on Friday” and was not undertaking SPA duties again prior to the board meeting the following week.

However, Mr Flanagan stated that, in his view, there had been no need to circulate Mr Penman’s letter, telling the Sub-Committee that “I felt that his letter captured views that had already been expressed rather than injecting new ones”.

Mr Penman explained to the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee on 11 May that his letter: “contained a level of detail that I would not have had the opportunity to explain in conversations on the margins with members”

Despite this Mr Foley told the Sub-Committee on 18 May that “It is not the case that his [Derek Penman’s] views were not known”

The letter was discussed at the pre-meeting and was not circulated before, during or at any time after the SPA board meeting. Board members and key stakeholders only saw the content of the letter, or in some cases became aware it, once it appeared in media reports some months later.

At the Sub-Committee meeting of 20 April 2017 Drew Livingstone stated that Unison was particularly concerned about not being made aware of the HMICS letter until recently, saying that: “there has been a reluctance on the part of the organisation to listen to opinions that might come across as being slightly dissenting”

Not circulating the HMICS letter to Board Members, as Her Majesty’s Inspector would have expected, was, in the Sub-Committee’s view, a serious error of judgement.

HMICS has a statutory role to look into the ‘state, effectiveness and efficiency’ of the SPA and it should provide HMICS with “such assistance and co-operation as we may require to enable us to carry out our functions”.

The Sub-Committee asks that you consider whether the Chair demonstrates sufficient understanding of the relationship between the SPA and HMICS and whether, in this instance, the required level of co-operation was provided to HMICS.

The operation of the SPA board

The On Board guidance states that “The Chair has an important role to play in ensuring that all Board members are enabled and encouraged to contribute to Board discussions”. Building and maintaining effective working relationships with SPA board members is an essential role of the Chair.

The Sub-Committee considered whether the Chair’s response to Moi Ali’s dissension at the board meeting in December, his interpretation of the On Board guidance and his communication style, enables and encourages members to contribute fully at SPA board meetings.

Treatment of Moi Ali

The Sub-Committee agrees with Mr Flanagan’s view that the tone, content and timing of his letter to Moi Ali in December was a misjudgement on his part and that the manner in which she raised concerns about transparency and perception at the SPA board meeting in December were consistent with her role as a Board member.

This issue has been on-going for almost 6 months and has been deeply damaging to the reputation of the SPA. It is therefore regrettable that Mr Flanagan did not come to this view initially, or before now, and that he did not seek to resolve this matter in person with Moi Ali before she felt it necessary to resign.

Mr Flanagan wrote to Moi Ali on two separate occasions, almost two months apart, but it seems that he did not find an opportunity to speak directly to Moi Ali to seek to resolve the issue and to repair the relationship.

The Sub-Committee notes that Mr Flanagan wrote a personal letter of apology to Ms Ali but that it was only written two days before the Sub-Committee’s evidence session and emailed on the day of the session.

Dissent

Mr Flanagan told the Sub-Committee that “The fundamental issue at the board meeting was that her [Moi Ali’s] decision to dissent was a surprise to me—that was the main frustration”

It remains Mr Flanagan’s view that he should be made aware before a board meeting if a member is likely to dissent in public, so that he was “prepared for that when the board meeting took place”.

This expectation is out of step with what is required of board members in the On Board guidance. Whilst this approach might be desirable for a Chair it does not enable the SPA board members to form a view at board meetings and could inhibit them from dissenting from a decision if they had not previously informed the Chair that they intended to do so. It has led to criticism that decisions are made before SPA board meetings and then ‘played out’ in public. There is an important distinction between a united board and an effective board. It is not always one and the same.

Relationship with SPA board members

The Sub-Committee heard that other SPA board members had only recently commented on the Chair’s treatment of Moi Ali, describing it to him as “a bit hasty and a bit heavy handed”.

The three SPA board members who gave evidence to the Public Audit and Post­-legislative Scrutiny Committee on 11 May, have only recently committed to asking the Chair why the HMICS letter was not circulated. They confirmed in evidence that they had not done so before now, despite the letter being in the public domain for a number of weeks.

It appears that on both these issues, despite having concerns about the Chair’s actions, significantly, SPA board members were reticent about speaking directly to Mr Flanagan.

Mr Flanagan told the Sub-Committee that the SPA board is to appoint a Deputy Chair. He indicated that one of the advantages of this appointment was that this person could meet with members of the Board who might feel constrained in raising an issue of concern directly with the Chair.

The Sub-Committee would be deeply concerned if Board members felt constrained in speaking to the Chair and, if that were the case, would expect the Chair to rectify that position as a matter of urgency.

Going forward

The Justice Sub-Committee on Policing agrees with the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee’s assessment that it is essential that the public and stakeholders be reassured that the SPA is performing to an appropriate standard.

Unfortunately Mr Flanagan’s repeated use of the phrase “I have to accept” did not reassure the Sub-Committee that he has a real belief and understanding that the actions that he took in relation to Moi Ali and in not circulating the HMICS letter, and repeatedly defended, were wrong.

There will be many difficult decisions for the SPA board to take going forward. It is essential that as many of these as possible are taken in public and informed by stakeholders. Openness, inclusiveness and transparency will strengthen the decision­ making process and the accountability of the SPA. Given the evidence that it has heard, the Sub-Committee does not have confidence that the current chair is the best person to lead the Board.

HMICS is currently undertaking a review of the openness and transparency of the SPA.

The Sub-Committee asks HMICS to consider the evidence it has taken and the contents of this report as part of that review. Mr Flanagan has committed to write to the Sub­ Committee with a response to HMICS’ review at the earliest opportunity.

TRANSPARENCY FIRST: Former Board member Moi Ali spoke out on transparency concerns at Police Watchdog:

A glimpse into the world of the Scottish Police Authority’s board meetings features an excerpt from the SPA’s meeting of 15 December 2016, in which Board Member Moi Ali raised serious concerns about recommendations in relation to the publication on the day of board meetings and the holding of committees in private.

More on the discussion around the Governance Framework and input from Moi Ali who raised her concerns at the meeting can be viewed here:

Scottish Police Authority 15 December 2016 meeting Governance framework discussion

Ms Ali said she understood there were good reasons for those recommendations she had serious concerns about the lack of transparency around the two proposals, and that there were real drawbacks in relation to holding committee meetings in private.

Moi Ali said her concerns were two fold – the perception issue in relation to private meetings where it may be perceived that decisions may be taken behind closed doors, and that defacto decision may well be taken behind closed doors and that the process of decision making will be hidden and there is a danger in due course this will morph into a different kind of body in which effectively real decisions are taken albeit not in name but then come back to the SPA Board for rubber stamping rather than transparent debate.

UNFIT AUTHORITY: – Crisis continues at Scottish Police Authority after Board members criticise MSPs scrutiny of Cop Quango:

SPA Chair Andrew Flanagan’s decision to stay in the lead role at the now discredited Scottish Police Authority comes after one of it’s Board members – Graham Houston – launched a blistering attack on open hearings at the Scottish Parliament’s PAPLS Committee’ – after it’s members quizzed the Chair & CEO of the SPA, along with Scottish Government Civil Servants at an earlier meeting of 20 April 2017.

Scottish Police Authority Board Member Graham Houston hits out at PAPLS scrutiny of Police Watchdog

Critisising MSPs scrutiny of the Scottish Police Authority, Board member Graham Houston said: “I also think as an example of good governance I think the treatment of my fellow board members by an audit and scrutiny committee was frankly appalling and I think if that is an example of what is expected of good scrutiny it leaves a lot to be desired. And I suggest that the members of that committee look to themselves about setting an example and also look to the guidance on board about how they conduct themselves in doing that.”

Mr Houston then attacked the media, accusing the press of abusing the ‘openness’ of the SPA and concludes by stating “I think that what will transpire is that probably we are one of the most open public authorities in Scotland.”

The SPA’s statement on the outcome of the meeting claimed it had strengthened the transparency and accessibility of its governance arrangements by making a number of revisions to Board and committee meetings and publication of papers.

The changes decided at the meeting, which will come in to effect from 1 June 2017 include:

SPA committee meetings held in public, with items taken in private only when necessary and with a clear articulation of the reason.

The publication of agendas for all public Board and committee meetings will be available on the SPA website 7 days in advance of meetings.

The publication of papers for all public Board and committee meetings will be published on the SPA website (under embargo) 3-working days in advance.

The publication of agendas for closed Board and committee meetings will be published on the SPA website (redacted if necessary) and a summary of the business conducted will be reported to the next public Board meeting.

The public will also have the opportunity to pose questions about policing matters to the SPA Board in advance of meetings.

In addition, the SPA Board has established a new Deputy Chair role. Nicola Marchant has been unanimously appointed to that position with immediate effect.

Full details of the changes and next steps agreed by the Board are outlined in the following paper: http://www.spa.police.uk/assets/126884/400419/governance

Houston’s criticism of the refers to the following hearing, in which evidence revealed to MSPs portrayed the Scottish Police Authority as a haven of secrecy, run in the style of  a “kremlin” operation – according to former Cabinet Secretary & PAPLS member Alex Neil MSP (SNP):

Scottish Police Authority – Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee – Scottish Parliament: 20th April 2017

A full report on the PAPLS meeting of 20 April can be found here: POLICING SECRETS: Former Scottish Police Authority board member Moi Ali invited to give evidence at Holyrood, after MSPs accuse SPA bosses of running Police watchdog like Kremlin ‘secret society’

A further appearance of current and former board members of the Scottish Police Authority before Holyrood’s PAPLS Committee on the 11th May – established evidence in relation to a sequence of alarming events at the SPA – giving MSPs significant cause for concern of how the SPA Chair was in effect, personally running the Police watchdog as a “secret society”.

Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee – Scottish Parliament: 11th May 2017

A full report on the PAPLS hearing of 11 May can be found here: UNFIT AUTHORITY: Chair of Scottish Police Authority “is not fit to continue on any public board” – says former SPA board member in evidence to Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee scrutiny of Police watchdog

The hearing also established not one board member of the now discredited Police Watchdog backed former board member Moi Ali – who was forced to resign from the SPA after she bravely raised issues of transparency and accountability during a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority in December 2016.

Then, at a hearing of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice sub-committee on Policing, Andrew Flanagan was asked by MSPs several times to consider his position as SPA Chair – yet Flanagan refused each call to stand down and allow the Scottish Police Authority to move on from the current crisis.

Justice Sub-Committee on Policing – Scottish Parliament: 18th May 2017

A more detailed report on the 18th May 2017 hearing of the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing can be found here: AUTHORITY LOST: Chair of Scottish Police Authority refuses to resign after facing challenge from Justice Committee MSPs to consider his position on discredited Police watchdog

Previous articles on the Scottish Police Authority can be found here: Scottish Police Authority – Poor governance, private meetings & lack of accountability at Police regulator

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CASH IN THE CROWN: Forget millions on bonuses, mortgages, junkets & dodgy prosecutions – Holyrood Crown Office probe raises concerns, recommends changes for £113m ‘under-resourced’ & untrustworthy Prosecution service

Scots Prosecutors ‘getting by’ on £113m a year. SCOTLAND’S PROSECUTORS are “just about managing” on £113million a year of taxpayers cash – according to a report produced by the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee of the ‘Role and Purpose of the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).

During the ‘bombshell’ inquiry into the Crown Office – an organisation once dubbed ‘the most corrupt institution in Scotland’ by a Cabinet minister – the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee heard claims COPFS staff suffered from shortage of resources,weak morale – including more than average levels of sick leave, claims of overwork.

MSPs also heard grips from the Lord Advocate – James Wolffe QC and his team over the level of public cash thrown at the infamous Edinburgh based Crown Office which now stands at a whopping £112.5million a year – according to figures in the Scottish Government’s own budget for 2016.

The report – into the ‘crime fighting’ Crown Office – which refused to prosecute the driver of the Glasgow bin lorry which left six people dead and injured 15 others in the centre of Glasgow – concludes: “On the whole, the public should have confidence that it is a rigorous and fair prosecutor. “However, the service remains under considerable pressure. There can be no room for complacency.”

The Committee’s inquiry also identified room for improvement in a number of Crown Office functions, including the support given to victims and witnesses – who are often poorly treated by COPFS staff.

However – during 2014 it was reported a senior manager in the Crown Office was suspended after openly criticising the treatment of crime victims.

John Fox, 47, made postings on an internal staff forum accusing his bosses of putting victims of domestic violence at risk. His criticism emerged days after the Sunday Mail newspaper revealed how victims of crime felt betrayed by Scotland’s justice system and were demanding reforms.

Mr Fox was formerly in charge of the 100-strong Victim Information and Advice Service (VIA), responsible for helping to improve services to crime victims and their families across Scotland. One of their tasks is to inform victims of domestic violence about the release from custody of the person charged with attacking them.

In some cases, victims of crime and witness have since alleged Crown Office employees told outright lies.

And, a recent investigation by the media reported key Crown Office employees hold secret criminal convictions for serious offences. The investigation, assisted by documents obtained by Freedom of Information legislation published here: Prosecutors own crime gang revealed  also found some victims and witnesses to crime had been threatened by Crown Office prosecutors and staff.

In a period of just two years – from November 2013 to November 2015 – the Crown Office admitted it retained records showing 15 cases reported to COPFS containing allegations of criminal offences by COPFS staff. Court proceedings were taken in 11 cases, three cases were disposed of by non-court disposal and no proceedings were taken in one case.

The charges brought against staff include assault and vandalism; road traffic offences; threatening and abusive conduct; breach of the peace; Misuse of drugs and offences against the police; data protection offences and an attempt to pervert the course of justice.

The Holyrood enquiry was apparently not handed any of this information. The inquiry did not take  steps to act upon it and quiz COPFS representatives, despite reports being available in the media  and to the inquiry – for some time.

Much of the inquiry’s focus on staff morale heard claims the Crown Office was underfunded and overworked, however figures revealed in a Freedom of Information request for the immediate three years after the collapse of several high street banks & huge cuts to public services – revealed successive Lord Advocates have spent over £572,307,16 on paying supposedly hard up staff everything from mortgages, relocation, rental costs and even phone bills, council tax and personal legal bills.

During financial year 2008/2009, payments made by COPFS for housing, rent or relocation allowances, or help with mortgages to 32 employees were: £212,500.76.
During financial year 2009/2010, payments made by COPFS for housing, rent or relocation allowances, or help with mortgages to 38  employees were £242,586.59.
During financial year 2010/2011, payments made by COPFS for housing, rent or relocation allowances, or help with mortgages to  26 employees were £117,220.14.

The cash expenses & junkets claims from COPFS staff continue, with figures released in another Freedom of Information request revealing a whopping £137,744.43 spent on further staff perks and junkets in 2014-2016. The FOI revealed:

During financial year 2011/2012, payments made by COPFS for housing, rent or relocation allowances, or help with mortgages to 16 employees were £85,513.21.
During financial year 2012/2013,payments made by COPFS for housing, rent or relocation allowances, or help with mortgages to   8 employees were £38,711.35.
During financial year 2013/2014, payments made by COPFS for housing, rent or relocation allowances, or help with mortgages to  5 employees were £13,519.87.

The cash expenses & junkets claims from COPFS staff continue, with figures released in another Freedom of Information request revealing a further £28,090 spent on further staff mortgages, rent , phone bills, legal bills and other perks and junkets in 2014-2016. However, these figures are now thought to be in dispute – and of a much higher sum than was originally quoted by the Crown Office. Nevertheless the FOI revealed:

Payments made by COPFS for housing, rent or relocation allowances, or help with mortgages, for COPFS staff including Procurators Fiscal from 1 April 2014 to 31 March 2016, were made by 33  COPFS employees, totalling an extra £28,090.

A separate Freedom of Information request revealed the hard-up Crown Office media unit spent over £376,168.06 in one year alone on media relations – this despite the Lord Advocate’s staff of 6 full time media staff and one part time employee – operating a policy of “no comment” to journalists – who are in increasing numbers of cases told to put their request for comment in a Freedom of Information request.

And, an investigation by the Sunday Mail newspaper in 2011 established the Lord Advocate had authorised massive bonuses for Crown Office staff who pocketed bonus payments of more than £580,000 in just two years.

Figures released via Freedom of Information requests revealed 419 COPFS employees shared payouts totalling £326,844 in 2009-2010, while 518 COPFS staff were handed £253,330 for 2010-11.

In 2009-2010, eight employees of the Crown Office received Bonuses of up to £20,000 while a further 15 COPFS employees received bonuses of up to £8,000.

In the same year up to 200 members of staff received bonus pay-outs of up to £500 while a further 200 COPFS employees were paid bonuses of up to £1000 each.

And, an investigation by the Scottish Sun newspaper revealed supposedly hard up Crown Office staff were travelling to international destinations all bankrolled by taxpayers cash.

The allegedly hard up Crown Office spent more than £57,000 of taxpayers’ cash last year alone flying staff across the globe. Hong Kong, Mauritius, Taiwan and New York were among 15 exotic destinations visited by Crown Office employees. And since 2012, they have taken off on a total of 109 international flights to places like South Africa, Australia and Malta.

The Crown, led by Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland, racked up £29,504 on 39 international flights to meetings and conferences last year and £27,603 on 143 domestic trips.The number of overseas flights has remained fairly steady over three years at 36, 34 then 39. But domestic flights have increased sharply from 97 to 131, then 143 last year.

Amsterdam was the most common destination, with 30 trips since 2012. The Dutch city is a major travel hub and close to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Flights to Washington DC and Malta were in connection with the ongoing probe into the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

While the information has been available in the public arena for some time, COPFS representatives appearing in front of the Justice Committee did not face any lines of questioning of the massive cash spends on personal junkets, mortgages, rent and other bills accumulated by staff who managed to have them all paid off by taxpayers.

The Justice Committee also had to make do without attendance of Scotland’s top judge and other members of the judiciary after Lord Carloway issued a letter to all branches level of the judiciary informing them of his decision to refuse to give evidence to the Justice Committee’s probe into the Crown Office.

Lord Carloway  – who earns £222,862 a year for his role as Lord President & Lord Justice General – said the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service (SCTS) should give evidence to the Justice Committee, rather than individual members of the judiciary – even retired ones

Carloway’s letter went out to every high court judge, the Sheriffs’ Association and the Scottish Justices Association (SJA) – which represents Justices of the Peace.

After Lord Carloway’s decision to refuse to attend the Justice Committee was made known – the SJA pulled out of its scheduled appearance in front of MSPs.

The report found that Scotland’s public prosecutor is coping in its core role of steering trials through the courts to an appropriate outcome, but the level of adjournments and postponements is unacceptably high and inadequate communication is a key problem.

It recommends that the COPFS develop more efficient and effective ways to update people whose attendance is no longer required at a trial.

It also says the COPFS should consider concerns raised about the erosion of prosecutors’ autonomy and discretion, the lack of preparation time and the consequences for morale.

Justice Committee convener Margaret Mitchell said: “An effective Crown Office is fundamental to an effective criminal justice system in Scotland.”

Ms Mitchell continued: “The committee heard many concerns during our inquiry. Across the board, witnesses identified possible improvements which could be made to how COPFS works – and better serve justice and the public. This report, its findings on the service’s strengths and weaknesses, and its recommendations are a considered, cross-party view following six months of work. These findings must be taken into account by COPFS management and the Scottish Government. There is no room for complacency, and the committee will be keeping close watch on developments.”

Justice Committee report – Role and Purpose of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service

Focussing on areas of Crown Office operation, the following excerpts are reproduced from the Committee’s final report:

Digital strategy

110. The “vision” of the Digital Strategy, published in 2014, is “to have modern, user-focused justice systems which use digital justice technology to deliver simple, fast and effective justice at best cost”. It is estimated by the Scottish Government that full implementation of the strategy across the entire justice sector (including the administrative and civil spheres) could save some £20-25 million per annum. The strategy sets out three objectives—

allow people and businesses to access the right information at the right time, principally by expanding online the amount of available information about the justice system. This objective also includes a commitment, by the end of 2017, to enable victims of crime to track their case online;

fully digitised justice systems;

make data work for us, ie collect and use data including stakeholder feedback to develop a more efficient and responsive justice system.

111. It is the second of these objectives that appears to have most potential to unlock efficiencies in the prosecution system, particularly in tandem with complementary reforms envisaged under the Evidence and Procedure Review. It includes plans for—

a “digital evidence vault” enabling the secure storage of all digital evidence in civil and criminal cases;

greatly increased use of live video links to reduce the need for accused, victims and witnesses to have to come to court in all instances;

the serving of more court documentation (eg arrest warrants) digitally; and

disclosure by the COPFS of all evidence to defence agents electronically.

112. The strategy also envisages the police being equipped with body-worn cameras and the integration of all legacy force ICT services within Police Scotland. The Committee notes the potential impact of these objectives on the prosecution of crimes, although they are not within the direct remit of this inquiry. Scrutiny of these issues is within the current work programme of the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing

and on

Evidence and Procedure Review

113. Lord Carloway’s March 2015 Evidence and Procedure Review concluded that the conduct of criminal trials needs to change because the process had not kept pace with entry into a digital age. The main recommendations related to—

child and vulnerable witnesses: as much as possible, taking evidence from them should be removed from the courtroom setting;

digital evidence: audio and video witness statements should ordinarily be admissible. This was seen as paving the way for the elimination of written witness statements, in most cases, in the future;

modernising criminal trial procedures: in essence, shifting the weight of trial preparation to earlier in the process, in part through greater judicial case management. Trial dates should only be fixed when it is clear that the case will be ready to run on the relevant date.

114. This was followed by a February 2016 “next steps” paper, setting out proposals on which the SCTS is currently working.158 These are intended to build on Lord Carloway’s three main recommendations and to align with relevant objectives in the digital strategy. The overall vision is of a more streamlined criminal justice system, with far less evidence having to be led in the courtroom.

115. As set out in the preceding section, the Lord Advocate and Crown Agent both indicated the COPFS’s readiness for reform, and said they saw real opportunities for progress, particularly in relation to the work of the Evidence and Procedure Review.The Crown Agent said the goal was to crystallise as much evidence as possible in advance of the actual trial.160 Amongst other things, this would greatly reduce the need for witnesses to attend trials – and the non-attendance of witnesses is one of the main causes of churn.

116. The Cabinet Secretary also set out his strong support for the Review. However, he referred in addition to a need for a “cultural change” on the part of all stakeholders if the full benefits of the Review were to be realised. He indicated that legislation would be required at some point to implement elements of the Review.

and on ‘Specialist Prosecutions’ MSPs heard evidence from a former COPFS Prosecutor linked to events in the David Goodwillie rape case – where the victim was forced to sue her assailant through the civil courts after the Lord Advocate refused to prosecute the footballer.

Specialist prosecutions

167. The Committee sought views on whether the COPFS had the appropriate skillsets it needed to carry out its prosecutorial role. This includes prosecuting the wide range of different crimes that the COPFS may encounter, ranging from historic child sexual abuse to corporate accounting fraud. As noted elsewhere in the report, the COPFS has moved towards greater specialisation in recent years, setting up offices dealing with sexual offences, serious and organised crime, and international cooperation, amongst others. The Committee notes that, in a relatively small jurisdiction such as Scotland, there are limits to this approach. There may be some types of case that only come before the criminal courts a handful of times in a few years, but which are of a particular complexity. It is hard to build up specialist expertise in such cases. Derek Ogg QC, a former head of the COPFS sexual offences unit told the Committee that, if there is considered to be a lack of in-house specialism to prosecute particularly complex crimes coming before the High Court, this could be addressed by borrowing that expertise; recruiting “locum” advocates depute with experience in that field for the duration of the case.

168. Some submissions expressed the view that the COPFS did not always have the specialist skillsets needed to prosecute certain types of crime as effectively as it should, for instance corporate or regulatory offences.HM Revenue and Customs gave positive evidence about its working relationship with the COPFS in the prosecution of crimes in which it was involved, although it indicated that the COPFS’s relative under-resourcing in some areas, for instance technology, sometimes put it under strain.

Centralised policy-making and local autonomy

184. The COPFS is a national service aspiring to achieve consistently high standards across Scotland. It is in the public interest that both accused and victims should expect the same professional standard of prosecution wherever their case calls. There was a consensus in evidence that the COPFS has become a more centralised organisation in recent years. Some evidence broadly welcomed this, but the Committee also heard views that this process had gone too far; to the point where it was impacting negatively on the COPFS’s effectiveness as a public prosecutor. Whether the COPFS was striking the right balance between pursuing centrally driven policies and letting local prosecutors take their own decisions emerged as one of the key themes of the inquiry.

Specialisation and central case-marking

185. A closely related issue is that of specialisation. In effect, specialisation is a form of centralisation, as it means that a small group of specialist prosecutors will tend to determine national approach to prosecuting particular crimes wherever they occur.

186. Specialisation has included the setting up a case-marking unit around 15 years ago. Local fiscals no longer mark cases at the initial stage of the prosecution. Instead, there are two centres – at Paisley and Stirling – where practically all cases are now marked. As the Committee understands it, the case marking process may involve not only a determination as to whether or not a case should be prosecuted, but further instructions on how to handle the case, for instance whether to accept plea bargains and, if so, on what basis.

Other types of specialisation

187. The setting up of a national sexual crimes unit at the COPFS in 2009 was welcomed by many stakeholders. They thought it had led to such cases (which now constitute around 70% of all High Court cases) being better handled at least at a strategic and policy level, with the views and interests of victims and their advocates better taken account of. This was the view of organisations including Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis. Susan Gallagher of Victim Support Scotland told the Committee that her organisation’s experience of centralisation – or specialisation – as it applied to victims was largely positive; it was when the Victim Information and Advice service had become more decentralised that inconsistency had crept back in.As noted above, the setting up of a specialist wildlife crime unit was also welcomed by stakeholders as having helped professionalise the COPFS’s approach to these offences.

Views from COPFS representatives

199. The FDA, representing fiscals, took a balanced view of the move towards a more centralised and more specialist service in recent year, recognising that it had its advantages and disadvantages. However, it was overall considered to have been positive. In relation to case-marking, the union’s Rachael Weir told the Committee that she considered it had been beneficial because it had led to greater specialist expertise in case marking being built up.

200. As noted elsewhere in the report, the Lord Advocate publicly affirmed his confidence in COPFS staff as the organisation’s “greatest asset” and expressed his “absolute trust and confidence in the judgment of those who prosecute on my behalf up and down the country”. However, the COPFS also made clear in its evidence to the Committee that one of the drivers of the move towards centralisation had been a desire to achieve greater consistency, and a higher quality public service overall.Overall, nothing in the COPFS’s evidence indicated to the Committee that the COPFS was minded to fundamentally reconsider its approach, in the light of views that had been expressed. The Lord Advocate cited learned authority from the 19th century that it was his role to ensure “the due and equal distribution of criminal justice”, so that all may have equal protection under the law, in order to underline that the concept of achieving consistency in prosecution policy was not a new one. It was his view that the current system did allow for some flexibility—

The system can accommodate matters that are of concern in local areas. Indeed, in their reports, the police might identify a particular issue as being a matter of concern. I can put it in this way: through having a national approach, we can ensure that, where there is justification for a variation from the norm to be applied in a particular locality, that is done consistently and does not depend on the views of a particular individual in a particular local area.

201. The Crown Agent said that previous less centralised models had run into problems of their own, such as some courts sitting until late evening. He said that the current system had brought greater professionalism and consistency. Inasmuch as it had probably brought down the number of court sittings, it may have reduced overall costs, although that was not, he stressed, the main reason behind the policy.In relation to the comments of the GBA and others that the current decision-making approach to individual cases can appear opaque and unnecessarily hierarchical, the Crown Agent acknowledged that there was, or had been an issue, explaining that recent internal reforms had led to the number of “approval levels” for ongoing cases being rationalised, with the grade for approval reduced to a local level.

Diversions and local knowledge

202. The Lord Advocate explained to the Committee that teams at the two central case-marking centres are organised by reference to Scotland’s six sheriffdoms. He argued this helped enable case-markers to develop local knowledge of particular areas. In relation to diversions from prosecution, the Lord Advocate said he had reflected on the evidence and posed an open question as to whether it indicated a lack of consistency across the country on the availability of diversion schemes as much as any perceived lack of local knowledge on the part of case markers.

203. Supplementary written evidence from the Crown Agent queried SACRO’s evidence that there had been a trend away from referrals to restorative justice schemes, arguing that it was not strongly supported in the follow-up information SACRO had itself provided to the Committee. The COPFS’s own statistics had indicated a gradual rise in the number of diversions from prosecution over the course of the current decade.The Committee notes that it would require further analysis to determine the extent to which diversions by case markers appear to have had outcomes that could be described as successful.

204. The Crown Agent’s written evidence also queried the JPs’ evidence to the Committee, which he interpreted as being to the effect that—

…prosecutors issue direct measures to avoid the expense of prosecuting cases in court. This is inaccurate and contrary to the Lord Advocate’s policies on decision making. The Scottish Parliament has given prosecutors a range of powers to take action against offenders and we seek to make effective use of all these powers.

205. Both the COPFS and the SCTS referred to statistics indicating that around 80% of direct measures consisting of fines or fixed penalties end up being paid.

206. The Committee notes the COPFS’s view that a drive towards increased centralisation and specialisation is likely to have helped it become a more efficient and professional organisation. The setting up of specialist prosecution units (for instance in relation to sexual offences) has been broadly welcomed. However, evidence has made clear that some trade-offs have been involved. It has been concerning to note evidence that local fiscals may sometimes find themselves running cases against their own professional judgment. The Committee also notes views that increased centralisation may have had an effect on morale and job satisfaction in local offices.

207. The Committee seeks clarification from the COPFS that consideration of the autonomy and decision-making capacity of local fiscals is being taken forward in its current “Fair Futures” programme being developed in consultation with its staff.

208. The Committee notes views that the centralisation of case marking has led to an erosion of knowledge as to the availability of local schemes and programmes where case markers are considering alternatives to prosecution. The Committee asks the Scottish Government to consider whether, if these perceptions are valid, Community Justice Scotland could be invited to address them in its ongoing work to develop a new model for community justice delivery.

209. More generally, the Committee asks the COPFS and Scottish Government as to what monitoring there is of the effectiveness of diversion from prosecution and whether and how the results of that monitoring are fed back to the COPFS for continuous improvement purposes.

Now, turning to the recommendations of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee – funding of the Crown Office comes into sharp focus, despite evidence of massive waste of millions of pounds of taxpayers cash on Crown Office staff:

Recommendations: Resources and funding of the COPFS

The COPFS, in common with agencies across the public sector, has faced significant challenges as a result of a prolonged period of flat-lining budgets. This looks set to continue into 2017-18. The Committee notes the Lord Advocate’s remarks that he considered his 2017-18 budget to be a “sound settlement” that will enable him to continue to provide a fundamentally effective prosecution service.

For the most part, the COPFS has coped in this tougher financial environment as well as can be expected, and its frontline staff deserve credit and recognition for their resilience under sometimes difficult circumstances. It would be unreasonable for the COPFS to continue to rely on the resilience of its staff indefinitely. The Committee considers that change is necessary before the risks that are undoubtedly embedded in the prosecution system, as presently constituted, begin to crystallise.

The Committee agrees with evidence from the COPFS and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice that more efficient ways need to be found to manage the whole prosecution process. Whilst the COPFS is the single most important organisation involved in managing the prosecution process, it cannot achieve this reform on its own. The Committee notes that it is expected that change will be primarily driven by the cross-agency Justice Board, on which the COPFS is represented, and expects the Lord Advocate and Cabinet Secretary to provide the necessary backing for the Board as it proceeds in implementing key elements of the Justice Strategy

The Lord Advocate and Crown Agent have acknowledged in evidence that there is a need to address staffing concerns dating back several years. Above average numbers of staff on short-term contracts, on sick leave, or in long-term temporary promotions are danger signs. The Committee is pleased the current leadership appears to recognise this, to be listening to staff, and to be looking for ways to deal with these issues. The Committee will continue to maintain a watching brief on this issue and requests an update on staffing matters from the COPFS when it responds to this report.

In relations to matters such as job satisfaction and work-life balance, returns from staff surveys in recent years have been concerning. The Committee notes some evidence that, in these areas, the organisation might now be making progress. The Committee also notes evidence and public statements from the Lord Advocate that he has confidence in the judgment of his prosecutors and trusts them to take decisions in his name. However, it is still very early days and, in this context, indications that the COPFS may have to shed around 30 staff in 2017-18 to deal with real-terms budget cuts are worrying. It is difficult to see, given the current pressures staff are under, how further losses are sustainable. The Committee seeks clarification from the COPFS on the operational rationale for job losses and where they will fall.

The Committee also warns the COPFS against an over-reliance on digital solutions to deliver greater efficiencies.

Efficiency of the prosecution service

“Churn” – adjournment and delay of cases scheduled for trial – is one of the main sources of frustration for anyone having to engage with the prosecution process. The Committee accepts that a degree of churn is inevitable and unavoidable, but evidence received over the inquiry indicates that it remains unacceptably high.

The Committee accepts that the problem of delay and inefficiency in the prosecution process cannot be solved by the COPFS acting on its own. The Committee also accepts that churn is a part-consequence of the COPFS’s limited staffing resources, but calls on the COPFS to find methods of mitigating it. For instance, it should be within the capacity of the COPFS to develop more efficient and effective means of notifying those whose attendance is no longer required at a trial. The Committee asks the COPFS and the Scottish Government to take this forward within the Justice Digital Strategy.

The Committee notes evidence that 80% of Crown motions to adjourn arise because of the non-attendance of witnesses. Giving evidence in a trial is a civic duty and failure to do so can be deemed a contempt of court. The Committee accepts that there can be understandable reasons why witnesses do not attend a hearing, but seeks clarification from COPFS and Scottish Government as to: what measures are in place to encourage and, if necessary, ensure witness attendance; the extent to which these measures are being used; and whether alternative approaches are being considered over and above whatever may emerge in due course from the Evidence and Procedure Review.

No blame can be attached to witnesses for non-attendance when they have not in fact been cited to attend court. The Committee is concerned by evidence that the process is sometimes unreliable. The Committee asks the Scottish Government, COPFS and SCTS whether it accepts this evidence and, if so, what measures are being considered to address this, including for instance, the Sheriffs’ Association suggestion of a dedicated COPFS unit to issue citations.

Proposals set out in the Evidence and Procedure Review and the Justice Digital Strategy are welcome and, in some cases, long overdue. Aspects of current criminal law procedure could rightly be described as archaic. The Committee notes the potential for considerable savings to be made if far fewer witnesses are required to attend court and are able to give their evidence in other ways.

However, the Committee notes with concern that the timetable for implementation of some aspects of the Digital Strategy has slipped, with some targets already missed. The Committee further notes that there appears to be no public timetable for implementing the Evidence and Procedure Review.

The Committee asks for a progress report from the Scottish Government in respect of each main element of the Review and the Strategy, setting out the timescale, the anticipated effect on the prosecution process, and where possible, the projected cost saving in relation to each such element.

The Committee also asks for an update from the Scottish Government as to what legislative changes it envisages may be required to unlock the full potential of the Evidence and Procedure Review and the Justice Digital Strategy, and what plans it has in respect of these.

The Committee seeks further information from the Scottish Government as to how proposals to encourage increased judicial case management in the context of criminal proceedings will be progressed and what additional support, if any (eg training), it envisages the judiciary may require in this modified role.

The Committee also seeks further information from the Scottish Government as to whether additional funding will be required to fully implement the Digital Strategy and the Evidence and Procedure Review and, if so, whether these have been costed and what proportion of these costs fall on the COPFS.

Given acknowledged difficulties with the delivery of major IT projects in the public sector, the Committee is concerned that there should not be an over-reliance on information technology to drive reform in the criminal justice system.

Proposals set out in the Evidence and Procedure Review and the Justice Digital Strategy are welcome and, in some cases, long overdue. Aspects of current criminal law procedure could rightly be described as archaic. The Committee notes the potential for considerable savings to be made if far fewer witnesses are required to attend court and are able to give their evidence in other ways.

However, the Committee notes with concern that the timetable for implementation of some aspects of the Digital Strategy has slipped, with some targets already missed. The Committee further notes that there appears to be no public timetable for implementing the Evidence and Procedure Review.

The Committee asks for a progress report from the Scottish Government in respect of each main element of the Review and the Strategy, setting out the timescale, the anticipated effect on the prosecution process, and where possible, the projected cost saving in relation to each such element.

The Committee also asks for an update from the Scottish Government as to what legislative changes it envisages may be required to unlock the full potential of the Evidence and Procedure Review and the Justice Digital Strategy, and what plans it has in respect of these.

The Committee seeks further information from the Scottish Government as to how proposals to encourage increased judicial case management in the context of criminal proceedings will be progressed and what additional support, if any (eg training), it envisages the judiciary may require in this modified role.

The Committee also seeks further information from the Scottish Government as to whether additional funding will be required to fully implement the Digital Strategy and the Evidence and Procedure Review and, if so, whether these have been costed and what proportion of these costs fall on the COPFS.

Given acknowledged difficulties with the delivery of major IT projects in the public sector, the Committee is concerned that there should not be an over-reliance on information technology to drive reform in the criminal justice system.

Effectiveness of the prosecution service

The Committee agrees with the Lord Advocate that the COPFS is, overall, “effective, rigorous, fair and independent” in the prosecution of crime. The evidence received indicates that, in general, Scotland is fundamentally well served by the COPFS in its core role as public prosecutor. However, the same evidence also makes clear that there should be no room for complacency and that the various shortcomings stakeholders have identified must be addressed.

The Committee acknowledges that the criminal justice system has not always prioritised domestic abuse as it should have or treated it with the seriousness it deserves. It was necessary for a clear message to be sent by public agencies working in the system that domestic abuse is unacceptable and would be tackled robustly, in order to give victims confidence that their case would be taken seriously. The COPFS/Police Scotland Joint Protocol on domestic violence has played an important role in that process. The Committee notes the differing views it has received during this inquiry as to the COPFS’s application of the protocol, notes the Lord Advocate’s response to it, and asks the COPFS and the Scottish Government to reflect further on the views that the Committee heard.

The Committee calls on the COPFS and Scottish Government to note evidence as to the quality and consistency of prosecution of those summary cases in relation to which special considerations do not apply by way of Lord Advocate’s guidelines to prosecutors or in the Joint Protocol on domestic abuse. Such cases include instances of antisocial behaviour, crimes of dishonesty or less serious violent crimes. The evidence suggests that these are sometimes under-prioritised.

The Committee acknowledges the COPFS’s evidence that it intends to build stronger relationships with third sector stakeholders in the prosecution of wildlife or environmental crime. The Committee asks the COPFS to respond to views heard in evidence that recommendations in the Scottish Government’s 2008 report Natural Justice, particularly in relation to post-prosecution debriefings, have not been fully implemented, and to set out its plans to address this.

The Committee is concerned by evidence of very low prosecution rates for failure to hold employer’s liability insurance, noting that the consequences of failing to be properly insured can be devastating for individuals and families. The Committee welcomes the COPFS’s commitment to explore the reasons behind the low number of referrals with relevant reporting agencies and requests an update from the COPFS.

The Committee seeks the COPFS’s view on whether there is merit in recruiting locum prosecutors to prosecute High Court cases turning on complex and specialist aspects of criminal law such as corporate fraud or health and safety breaches and, if so, whether this is part of its current practice.

The Committee is concerned by evidence that the courts are sometimes being asked to take decisions on bail without access to the full range of relevant information. This may lead to decisions being made that are not necessarily in the public interest, for instance to refuse bail on the basis of the accused’s homelessness. Whilst the safety of the public and the integrity of the prosecution process must be the paramount considerations, the public interest is not served by individuals being remanded when more suitable alternatives may be available. The Committee asks the COPFS and Scottish Government, on behalf of the Scottish Prison Service, to respond to this evidence.

The Committee notes the COPFS’s view that a drive towards increased centralisation and specialisation is likely to have helped it become a more efficient and professional organisation. The setting up of specialist prosecution units (for instance in relation to sexual offences) has been broadly welcomed. However, evidence has made clear that some trade-offs have been involved. It has been concerning to note evidence that local fiscals may sometimes find themselves running cases against their own professional judgment. The Committee also notes views that increased centralisation may have had an effect on morale and job satisfaction in local offices.

The Committee seeks clarification from the COPFS that consideration of the autonomy and decision-making capacity of local fiscals is being taken forward in its current “Fair Futures” programme being developed in consultation with its staff.

The Committee notes views that the centralisation of case marking has led to an erosion of knowledge as to the availability of local schemes and programmes where case markers are considering alternatives to prosecution. The Committee asks the Scottish Government to consider whether, if these perceptions are valid, Community Justice Scotland could be invited to address them in its ongoing work to develop a new model for community justice delivery.

More generally, the Committee asks the COPFS and Scottish Government as to what monitoring there is of the effectiveness of diversion from prosecution and whether and how the results of that monitoring are fed back to the COPFS for continuous improvement purposes.

Victims and witnesses and the COPFS

The Committee supports the principle that the COPFS prosecutes in the public interest and not directly in the interests of individual victims of crime: it is not “the victim’s lawyer”. The Committee understands that this may sometimes lead to difficult decisions being made that victims find painful. However, the Committee considers that the principle is key to protecting the independence and integrity of the prosecution service.

The Committee considers that there is no inherent contradiction between putting the public interest first during the prosecution process and putting victim care at the heart of criminal justice system, In particular, victims have a right to be listened to and to be treated with respect and sensitivity. Their views matter and they should be consulted, whenever possible, at appropriate points in the prosecution process.

The Committee considers that an effective, efficient and fair COPFS in everyone’s interests; accused, victims and witnesses alike. The Committee is therefore concerned by evidence that a lack of preparation time means that time limits in solemn trials are being “routinely” exceeded and seeks the COPFS’s response.

The Committee also asks the COPFS to respond to evidence that its general policy is not to seek the withdrawal of warrants for arrest of an accused for non-attendance, even where there may be exculpatory or mitigating factors. The Committee accepts that non-appearance for a court hearing is a serious matter but asks the COPFS to respond to concerns that, if this is its policy, it may impact disproportionately on vulnerable people.

The Committee asks the COPFS and Scottish Government to clarify what information (if any) public agencies must provide to families and dependents of accused people and what measures are in place to ensure that the information is provided. The Committee seeks clarification from the COPFS and Scottish Government as to what measures are in place to ensure that family members or vulnerable adults accused or convicted of a crime are contacted and notified.

The Committee considers that the safety and mental welfare of victims, balanced against the accused’s right to a fair trial, should be at the forefront of consideration during the prosecution process. The Committee asks the COPFS and Scottish Government to confirm whether it is their understanding that Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 imposes legal duties on the COPFS, and other agencies, in relation to the hostile cross-examination of witnesses during a criminal trial and, if so, to clarify what practices and policies are in place to ensure that relevant legal requirements are met.

The Committee welcomes the Victims’ Code for Scotland and considers that the pamphlet should be available to all victims at their first point of contact with the criminal justice system. The Committee seeks clarification from the COPFS and Scottish Government as to current practices in relation to making the Code available.

The Committee welcomes ongoing work under the Evidence and Procedure Review to reform the way in which children give evidence during a trial but repeats its earlier concern that there is no publication date for the review’s findings.

The Committee notes that the aspiration is to make taking evidence from children in a courtroom setting the exception rather than the norm. Any reforms must continue to allow the defence to challenge and test the evidence. The Committee looks forwards to considering detailed proposals as they emerge.

The Committee welcomes the additional funding that the Cabinet Secretary provided for the victim fund, which assists families of murder victims, in the 2016-17 financial year. The Committee asks the Scottish Government to keep the fund under review to ensure that it is adequate.

The Committee considers that the evidence taken from victims of crime set out serious failings by the criminal justice system, of which the COPFS is a key component, to provide the confidence necessary for these victims to participate in court proceedings. These failings including a lack of communications, misinformation, delays and adjournments, have resulted in some of these victims concluding that they would never have reported the crime in the first place. The Committee considers that this is unacceptable and must be addressed as a priority, and repeats its view that it is imperative that the COPFS finds more effective methods for passing on accurate up-to-date information about trials in real time to all stakeholders, victims especially. The Committee acknowledges that the reasons for adjournments in criminal trials are complex and that the COPFS bears only partial responsibility for them.

The Committee asks the COPFS to clarify the extent to which it takes into account the vulnerability of victims and witnesses, and the risk to them of a prolonged or delayed prosecution process, in determining the prioritisation of cases, in the light of evidence that delays in hearing cases can disproportionately damage the mental welfare of vulnerable adults.

The Committee recognises the valuable role played by the Victim Information and Advice Service, and that there has been praise for the contribution of VIA staff members in evidence. The Committee recognises that the COPFS’s resources are finite and limited and prevent it providing as much assistance as it would like. At the same time, there are lessons for the COPFS as a whole to learn as to the way it sometimes communicates with victims of crime and with other prosecution witnesses.

Reforms under the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 have significantly widened the duties owed to victims and witnesses and have been widely welcomed. The COPFS, in common with other public agencies, is still adjusting to these changes. The Committee is concerned by evidence appearing to indicate that some of the key rights secured by that legislation are not yet a reality for victims and witnesses in their journey through the criminal justice system. The Committee asks the COPFS and Scottish Government to respond to this evidence, and to evidence that victims and witnesses are not always aware of their rights.

The Committee welcomes the Lord Advocate’s acknowledgement that the COPFS might benefit from examining the process of giving evidence from the victim’s perspective in order to see whether it could be improved.

The Committee is concerned by evidence that vulnerable witnesses did not always obtain the special measures that they had requested and that where some special measures (for instance, screens) were provided, they were not always adequate. Evidence that victims and witnesses did not always feel secure outwith the courtroom setting during the trial process is also concerning. The Committee notes that, as well as potentially affecting victims’ and witnesses’ mental welfare, this might affect the evidence they give, or in extreme cases lead them not to give evidence at all.

The Committee recommends that the COPFS carry out an audit of victims and witnesses entitled to special measures in order to determine (a) whether they are aware of their rights to ask for special measures, (b) whether reasonable requests for non-standard special measures are being met, and (c) the extent to which the provision of special measures actually assisted the individual in providing evidence and, if not, what lessons could be learned from this.

Under the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014, the COPFS is required to take reasonable steps to enable victims and their families to avoid the accused during a trial. The Committee seeks clarification from the COPFS as to how it exercises that duty in practice and whether it makes victims and their families aware of its existence.

The Committee was concerned by evidence as to the lack of contact between victims and prosecutors during trial preparation, leading in some cases to a perception from victims that the Crown was not well prepared when it came to the trial. The Committee notes the explanation provided by the COPFS as to why, in the vast majority of cases, it is no longer considered appropriate to precognose victims and witnesses. However, the Committee also notes evidence that precognition by the Crown, amongst other things, may help evidence be agreed earlier, and thus help cases resolve more quickly, which is one of the main aims of the Evidence and Procedure Review. The Committee asks the COPFS to respond to this evidence.

Evidence received over the course of this inquiry shows a divergence between the intentions of the COPFS and the experience of many victims. Victims can be re-traumatised by what can come across as a mechanistic process that does not always appear to have their interests at heart. Victims and witnesses are sometimes made to feel like an afterthought. This is a system-wide problem but the COPFS, as the key organisation within the prosecution process, bears its share of responsibility. Any comprehensive solution must also be system-wide.

The Committee notes Dr Lesley Thomson’s Review of Victim Care in the Justice Sector in Scotland. Whilst welcoming the Review as a valuable contribution to the current debate as to how best to cater for victims within the prosecution process, the Committee considers that many of its conclusions have been voiced before but not acted upon.

The Committee requests a detailed response from the COPFS and the Scottish Government as to the main conclusions in the Review, including which recommendations they propose to accept, and what legislative reforms may be necessary in the light of this. The Committee further requests from the COPFS and Scottish Government a timetable for implementing recommendations in the Review. The Committee also seeks their views on the Review’s proposal that victims should have access to a single point of contact providing advice and support during their journey through the criminal justice process.

The Committee notes that the number of referrals to the VIA service has risen sharply (by around 45% in seven years) and that the Thomson Review estimates an additional 4000 referrals per annum in future thanks to recent legislative reforms. The Committee considers that without additional resource for VIA, there will almost certainly be adverse consequences for its ability to work effectively.

The Committee calls for the COPFS to audit the work VIA currently undertakes in order to come to a view on where the main demands on its services come from and whether there are areas of unmet need.

The Committee makes these recommendations in the context of what it recognises as an ongoing debate as to the future role of the VIA service. The Committee considers that obtaining more information on VIA’s current workload and on unmet need may help clarify next steps in relation to that debate.

The Inspectorate of Prosecutions

The Inspectorate of Prosecutions in Scotland has an important role to play in ensuring the effectiveness and efficiency of the prosecution system and the Committee supports its work. The inquiry has laid bare the Inspectorate’s very low public profile, even amongst criminal justice stakeholders. Whilst the Inspectorate is not a public-facing complaints-handling organisation or an advocacy body, it requires the input of informed experts and stakeholders to add value to its scrutiny work.

The Committee is therefore concerned at the lack of stakeholder awareness of the Inspectorate’s output, given that its reports have touched on matters of genuine public interest.

The Committee notes the Inspectorate’s assurances that it recognises its low profile as a concern and proposes to address it. The Committee requests an update from the Inspectorate as to what work is planned and would welcome the Scottish Government’s view on what the Inspectorate proposes.

The Committee notes that it helps the Inspectorate to have ex-COPFS staff working on its investigations. They bring with them a wealth of knowledge about how the service works that is likely to add to the quality of its output. However, the Committee considers that the Inspectorate has not currently got the balance quite right. This applies particularly to the practice of recruiting most assistant inspectors from the COPFS on secondment.

The Committee notes the Inspector’s assurances that she has never been influenced to change a recommendation in her reports. However, perceptions matter, and current arrangements contribute to a perception that the Inspectorate may not be as independent from the COPFS as it was intended to be. The Committee requests the Scottish Government to reflect on these views and to respond to them.

Finally, the Committee asks the Inspector to take into account conclusions and recommendations about the COPFS made elsewhere in this report when considering her next programme of inspections.

LET’S DO JUSTICE DIFFERENTLY – JAMES WOLFFE QC

At a meeting on 17 January 2017, MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee took evidence from Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC – who told MSPs ongoing reviews suggested a “need to do criminal justice in really quite a different way”.

In the months since James Wolffe made this statement to MSPs, Wolffe has embarked on a public relations offensive in order to bring the thorny question of the removal of corroboration – a safeguard against miscarriage of justice – from Scotland’s criminal justice system – in order to secure what COPFS agents believe would be a vastly higher conviction rate – if the requirement of two independent sources of verification for evidence was dropped.

Appearing in sympathetic press, Wolffe has made known he now sides with the abolishment of corroboration and a wholesale change of the way criminal prosecutions are handled in Scotland.

However, critics say the Crown Office cannot be trusted with such radical alterations to Scots Criminal law – pointing to high levels of corruption at the Crown Office including staff who themselves hold criminal records for serious offences, and the widely known fact COPFS is heavily compromised by criminal informants, as well as legal staff who have tipped off other crooks including lawyers & financiers linked to major criminal investigations.

And – moves to drop corroboration in the past have been condemned as little more than a policy move to allow Prosecutors to make up evidence as they go along in Criminal Trials.

Legal figures from across Scotland have indicated it is their view that if  corroboration were removed from the Criminal justice system, trials would be likely to see an increase in all kinds of dodgy statements & evidence used by desperate prosecutors out for a conviction at any cost.

Evidence from Police Officers too has been widely criticised by several members of the judiciary who contend officers have knowingly given false, and at times corrupt evidence in  Scotland’s Sheriff and High Courts of Justiciary.

Legal insiders have since tipped off the media the Crown Office has conducted an internal consultation on how to ‘reinvigorate’ moves to abolish corroboration and return the issue to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee – where MSPS previously concluded only two years ago that corroboration must remain as part of Scotland’s justice system.

The Justice Committee’s decision came from an impassioned address by Lord Brian Gill, who rightly supported the retention of corroboration as a safeguard to ensure the right to a fair trial across the spectrum of Scotland’s criminal justice system.

The Justice Committee – then under the chair of MSP Christine Grahame MSP, had previously heard from anti-corroboration protagonists Lord Carloway – who is now Scotland’s top judge, and the then Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland – who Carloway has since appointed to a £180k judicial post at the Court of Session.

The Justice Committee remained unconvinced of the merits of abolishing corroboration after hearing from Carloway, Mulholland and a plethora of other groups & vested interests.

Lord Advocate James Wolffe is also facing serious questions to answer over his role in a growing scandal around cash bungs and payments to members of the Faculty of Advocates – while Wolffe was Dean of Faculty.

An ongoing media investigation into a case in which a judge & privy councillor failed to declare links to his son – who was at the time representing a construction company which admitted an incident of unlawfully dumping contaminated waste – has established a QC representing the pursuer was paid large sums of cash after he demanded the payments “in any form except beads”.

An investigation into the payments – which breach Faculty rules -, and evidence of alleged malpractice by the QC was covered up while Wolffe was Dean of Faculty.

Now, the case has re-entered the headlines as calls grow for a full investigation into legal regulators including Wolffe’s Faculty of Advocates – who dismissed the complaint without even looking at it.

Video footage of two appearances by Crown Office agents including the Lord Advocate – James Wolffe QC, follow:

Scottish Parliament Justice Committee 17 January 2017 – COPFS Inquiry & other business

Committee convener Margaret Mitchell said the probe had “unearthed some serious concerns”.

She said: “From the amount of time wasted through trials not proceeding on schedule, to the workload of prosecutors and the support offered to the victims and witnesses who appear at court. “The justice committee will publish its conclusions in due course, but we hope that the Lord Advocate will have listened to the legitimate concerns raised so far.”

Conservative justice spokesman Douglas Ross pressed the Lord Advocate on whether there would be “an overhaul of the justice system” in light of concerns raised.

Mr Wolffe said he acknowledged the challenges COPFS faces, saying “significant reform” was ongoing, with a process review suggesting “the need to do criminal justice in really quite a different way”.

Crown Agent David Harvie, the professional head of the service, said there was a “very strong argument for system change” within the justice system, and “a need and an opportunity for transformational change”.

Staff surveys have noted that 40% of Crown Office staff don’t wish to stay in the service in the long term – although Mr Wolffe argued that this is “considerably higher” than the average in the civil service, saying things were moving in the right direction. He also argued that there should be no lack of confidence in the fundamental work of COPFS, with a conviction rate of 80% in cases prosecuted.

Mr Harvie said the “vast majority” of individuals were provided with a good service, although he said he “accepts and regrets” that some had been failed.

In response to further questions about staff issues, Mr Wolffe said “we are not complacent about it”, but added that “there is encouragement to be taken” from staff surveys. He said the service had “come a remarkable distance” in his lifetime, from a position where the criminal justice system paid no regard to the needs of witnesses.

The Lord Advocate highlighted communication and support for victims and vulnerable witnesses as a particular area of focus for ongoing improvements, with ambition to deal with evidence from children and vulnerable people in a different way.

Ms Mitchell said there was a “fundamental problem” over communications with victims of sexual assault in particular, with Mr Harvie agreeing this was an issue worthy of “significant reflection” and further work.

Under the current budget draft, the Crown Office budget is maintained in cash terms, which equates to a real-terms cut.

Mr Harvie told members that £1.5m of savings had been targeted, with half of the sum coming from staff costs.

He said “probably around 30” jobs would be cut, by not replacing staff who leave or retire. The other half of the savings will come from areas like expert witness costs and pathology, although Mr Harvie conceded there was a “risk” that some could also come from staffing – albeit “not a significant risk”.

Mr Wolffe previously appeared at Holyrood to give evidence about the draft budget, at which point he argued the Crown Office had adequate resources to fulfil its role.

Scottish Parliament Justice Committee 20 December 2016 COPFS Inquiry & other business

Concluding MSPs probe of the Crown Office, Justice Committee convener Margaret Mitchell said: “An effective Crown Office is fundamental to an effective criminal justice system in Scotland.The committee heard many concerns during our inquiry. Across the board, witnesses identified possible improvements which could be made to how COPFS works – and better-serve justice and the public. These findings must be taken into account by COPFS management and the Scottish government.”

Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC said: “It is gratifying that the committee has concluded that COPFS is an effective, rigorous, fair and independent public prosecutor.It states that, in general, the public in Scotland is fundamentally well-served by the COPFS in that core role. That is, in large part, a tribute to the professionalism and commitment of the staff of the service. The committee has made a number of recommendations and I will wish to take time to reflect on all of those recommendations.”

For a more substantive reporting on the Crown Office, read previously articles here: Scotland’s Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service – previous reports and on the office of Lord Advocate here: Scotland’s Lord Advocate – Top crime officer leaves much doubt on justice.

Have a problem with the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service? Tips to tell on cases, prosecutions or presentation of dodgy evidence? Tell us more about it in confidence, by email to scottishlawreporters@gmail.com

 

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INQUIRY OF THE CROWN: Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee launch inquiry into crime fighting ability of ‘institutionally corrupt’ Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service

Crown Crooked – MSPs to quiz £112m-a-year Scots prosecutors. OFTEN DESCRIBED as the most corrupt public body in all Scotland – the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) – is to face a major investigation of it’s purpose and role in prosecuting crime – by the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee who want to hear from you by Wednesday 19 October 2016

Accused of being a haven of deceit, institutionally racist, sectarian, bigoted, prejudiced, corrupt, woefully incompetent and staffed with prosecutors who will – with ease – lie to victims of crime, misrepresent the facts in court, twist evidence of victims, witnesses and accused alike – this collection of swaggering lawyers and Crown Counsel who are paid a staggering £112.5 million of public cash this budget year to go after criminals – will now face questions on their own gangster-like existence in the annals of Scots Law.

The inquiry – which will take evidence in public during sessions of the Justice Committee over the coming months at Holyrood – will focus on the core role and examine the effectiveness and efficiency of the Crown Office, how well it works with its stakeholders, and the support it provides to witnesses and victims of crime.

The Committee will also examine its responsiveness to new challenges and opportunities, such as the evolving nature of crime and advances in technology. As part of the inquiry it will examine the role and function of the independent Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland.

Beware however – this is an enquiry which appears to focus more on questions of whether the Crown Office has enough resources – or the budget – to be effective at ‘fighting crime’.

Hands up those of you (not vested legal interests please) who believe £112.5 million of public cash a year – as part of an ever increasing budget – makes the Crown Office under budget or under resourced.

MSPs have also clarified the Justice Committee inquiry will not consider two other roles of the Crown Office – relating to establishing the cause of sudden, unexplained or suspicious deaths or investigating allegations of criminal conduct against police officers, except in relation to the general issue of whether the COPFS has the resources it needs to carry out its purpose.

This is a Crown Office gone bad – a prosecution service so rotten – the Scottish Government was forced to remove the law on double jeopardy to allow incompetent, often strange prosecutors – some with their own secret criminal histories – to bring persons before the court time and time again until convictions are eventually secured in front of increasingly worn out judges and juries.

The same Crown Office which shredded statistics on sectarian crime principally against Catholics and other religious minorities in Scotland shredded – to avoid being asked questions by MSPs considering the hated Offensive Behaviour at Football Matches & Threatening Communications Act and the impact of Scotland’s criminal justice system’s oh-so-obvious endemic religious bigotry.

The same Crown Office run by Prosecutors who present the deceased on witness lists at criminal trials.

The same Crown Office staffed by Prosecutors & employees who themselves have secret criminal records – on everything from assault, threats & perverting the course of justice to drugs offences.

The same Crown Office compromised by criminal informants among staff who leak details to crooks targeted by Police Scotland and other law enforcement agencies.

The same Crown Office who pride bonuses, junkets and higher salaries before obtaining justice for victims of crime.

The same Crown Office whose Advocate Depute did a runner from the High Court in 2007 during a major trial which resulted in the collapse of the first World’s End murder trial.

The same Crown Office run by a Lord Advocate who called into question the state of the judiciary in order to distract the public from Crown Office failures over the collapse of the same World’s End Trial –Top judge accused Lord Advocate of undermineg the judiciary in statements Angiolini made to the  Scottish Parliament.

The same Crown Office which campaigned for the removal of Corroboration – one of the cherished few safeguards of Scots law which cuts across every and all criminal cases and evidence presentation in our courts and helps to guard against miscarriage of justice.

And by removing corroboration – not, for any lofty aim of upholding justice and protecting the public – mind you.

The singular vested interest of the Crown Office in removing corroboration from the justice system was, and remains simply because – the Crown Office are so inadequate at prosecuting crime, they must have multiple chances to parade people in court to secure convictions, no matter how much it costs taxpayers, the reputation of Scots law.

Enter the man – no less than the ex Dean of the Faculty of AdvocatesJames Wolffe QC – who wanted – and was handed the job of Lord Advocate – tasked with steering, spinning and manipulating the Crown Office through the choppy murky waters of Scotland’s criminal empires, and not forgetting his own staff’s secret criminal pasts.

The accompanying fanfare and typical public relations exercise of Wolffe’s appointment to succeed former Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland, came with the usual fluff of a new broom to sweep away crime and criminality.

Yet Wolffe himself was – only a few months before his new commission of protecting Scots from big time crime barons – fretting with Scottish Ministers over his precious Faculty of Advocates spending of £320,000 on parts of Parliament House it had occupied without recorded title – yet somehow gained ownership of, reported here: WOLFFE HALL: Papers reveal Council’s legal action ‘abandoned’, £320K Faculty refurbishment of Laigh Hall.

And Scotland’s criminal justice system is so tipped against the rights of victims and accused – as the legal eagles waft in and out of jobs, earlier this week – Wolffe’s replacement as Dean at the Faculty of Advocates – Gordon Jackson QC – a leading lawyer who has rightly represented some of Scotland’s most hardened criminals and gangsters – lectured the Lord Advocate on the creeping rights of victims in an open letter to the press.

Mr Jackson expressed his concern that the “admirable principle” of an independent prosecution service, acting in the public interest, “is being eroded in practice”. Advocates depute and junior fiscals alike, he writes, are seen as reluctant to make decisions but refer cases to their superiors, and prosecutors have admitted to him that they are not following their own judgment on what can be proved “because of the family’s position” – referring to the now common practice of meeting victims’ families.

So now you know the views of the legal profession – picture the following – for it could, or may have already happened to you.

Your loved one has been brutally, mercilessly murdered by a criminal – a criminal perhaps not unknown to the authorities.

Or a victim of crime or has fallen to an untimely end at the hands of deceitful public servants or an unscrupulous business more interested in profits than the safety of their workforce.

Now – right in front of you- you face someone from the very same Crown Office talking at you – not to you – or with you

As you may begin to observe – they ask you questions – often the wrong questions – depending on their scheming ahead to figure out if they can secure a conviction or a grubby plea deal spun out by their public relations department as a win for justice. They may even tell you something in a meeting, face to face, then lie about it later. A big fat lie of a lie. No matter. The Lord Advocate will cover it up.

They claim they are going to put away the killer, the murderer, the fraudster, the crook who ruined your life, wiped someone’s very existence from life – yet you just know – that same Crown Office career monger has liar written all over their face. Unmissable, isn’t it – like a house on fire.

You’ll know it was all true – when the killer, crook or villain gets seven years and out in two.

Are you a victim of crime? Are you a victim of a miscarriage of justice? Are you a solicitor performing the testy task of representing accused persons against a prosecution service gone mad?

All of you have an interest in making your voice heard to this inquiry. Don’t leave it to vested interests, or the legal profession or those who cloak themselves in good deeds while concealing crime.

Make your voice heard – in writing – to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee by 19 October 2016.

Those submitting are invited to restrict their submission, if at all possible, to the equivalent of approximately four sides of A4. Evidence should be submitted in electronic (preferably MS Word) format by email to justicecommittee@parliament.scot

Organisations and individuals who do not have access to a PC and the internet may submit a hard copy to: Clerk to the Justice Committee The Scottish Parliament Edinburgh EH991SP

For further information on this inquiry please contact the committee clerks by email at justicecommittee@parliament.scot or by phone at 0131 348 6241.

MSPs TO INVESTIGATE CROWN OFFICE:

The Scottish Parliament Justice Committee has agreed to hold its first major inquiry of this session into the role and purpose of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), with this remit:

The COPFS is Scotland’s independent prosecution service, acting in the public interest to help bring offenders to justice.

The core role of the COPFS is to consider reports about crime from the police and other agencies, to decide whether it is in the public interest to prosecute them, and, if so, to deploy the resources that are necessary to help ensure that justice is done.

The Committee’s inquiry will focus on this core role, examining in particular—

The Scottish Parliament Justice Committee has agreed to hold its first major inquiry of this session into the role and purpose of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), with this remit:

“The COPFS is Scotland’s independent prosecution service, acting in the public interest to help bring offenders to justice. The core role of the COPFS is to consider reports about crime from the police and other agencies, to decide whether it is in the public interest to prosecute them, and, if so, to deploy the resources that are necessary to help ensure that justice is done. The Committee’s inquiry will focus on this core role, examining in particular—

• The effectiveness and efficiency of the COPFS, and how well it works with other stakeholders in the criminal justice system;

• Whether the COPFS has the resources and skillsets it needs to carry out its core role;

• The COPFS’s responsiveness to new challenges and opportunities including the evolving nature of crime in 21st century Scotland, advances in technology, and changes in the delivery of court services that may affect access to justice;

• How the COPFS protects and supports witnesses and victims of crime.

The Committee will also take evidence on the role and function of the Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland. (The IPS is the independent inspectorate for the COPFS.)

The inquiry will not consider the COPFS’s two other roles of establishing the cause of sudden, unexplained or suspicious deaths or investigating allegations of criminal conduct against police officers, except in relation to the general issue of whether the COPFS has the resources it needs to carry out its purpose.”

Questions to consider:

Organisations and individuals are invited to submit written views to the Committee in relation to the inquiry. Those submitting views should feel free to address issues raised in the remit in whatever manner they prefer, but it would be particularly appreciated if they could aim to address some or all of the questions set out below, providing specific examples, data or other evidence to back up their views whenever possible—

1. Please outline your views on the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the COPFS in its core role of considering reports about crime from the police and bringing prosecutions. Are there ways in which the services provided by the COPFS could be improved – for instance, through increased use of technology, further reforms to criminal procedure, or better case management? If so, do those changes also bring risks, in terms of the overall interests of justice or of access to justice (bearing in minds the differing needs of people across Scotland; urban and rural communities, economically disadvantaged people, vulnerable groups, etc)?

2. Please outline how well you consider the COPFS works with other stakeholders in the criminal justice system, so as to provide a “joined up” and complementary service that helps meet the ends of justice. Other stakeholders might, for instance, include the police, defence lawyers, the courts, the prison service, criminal justice social work, and third party organisations working with victims or offenders.

3. Does the COPFS as presently constituted have the resources and skillsets it needs to carry out its core role effectively? And is it appropriately “future-proofed” – for instance to deal with new technologies available to criminals, changes in the overall profile of crime in 21st century Scotland, or withdrawal from the European Union? If not, what additional capacities does the COPFS need?

4. How well does the COPFS respond to the needs of victims of crimes and to witnesses (especially vulnerable witnesses) in criminal cases and meet its legal obligations towards them?

5. The Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland is the independent, statutory inspectorate for the COPFS. What is your awareness of the existence and role of the IPS and of its effectiveness in carrying out that role? How effective has it been in carrying out its role? Does it appear to have the resources it needs?

Committee convener Margaret Mitchell MSP commented: “The Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service is absolutely fundamental to the operation of an effective justice system in Scotland. This is why this committee has chosen to make it the focus of its first major inquiry.

“MSPs on the previous Justice Committee raised several concerns about the additional pressures that the organisation faced in recent times – including an increase in complex historic sex abuse and domestic abuse cases and new requirements required by legislation.

“The COPFS’s responsibilities towards victims and witnesses have also been increasing – and rightly. This has all taken place against a backdrop of tight budgetary settlements in recent years.

“It is likely these significant pressures will continue, so fundamental to this inquiry will be to determine if the COPFS has the resources it needs to bring offenders to justice, and is ‘future proofed’ to deal with new challenges.”

If you feel the Scottish Parliament should be asking many more questions of our prosecutors, don’t forge to make your views known to your own MSP, even ask them to go along to the hearings and make your issues more aware to the Justice Committee.

For previous articles on the Crown Office, read more here: Scotland’s Crown Office – in Crown detail

 

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WOLFFE HALL: Parliament House – seat of justice – lost to Edinburgh as investigation reveals Scottish Government ‘gifted’ land titles to Faculty of Advocates after £58m refurbishment

Scotland’s top courts ‘gifted’ to advocates in secret deal with Scottish Ministers. PARLIAMENT HOUSE – the seat of power for Scotland’s judiciary and the nation’s highest, most expensive, elusive and pro-big business courts – has been lost to the Common Good and the citizens of Edinburgh who paid for it’s construction – after it was revealed earlier this week Scottish Ministers had gifted the land titles of the court buildings to the Faculty of Advocates .

And, yesterday, in an attempt to head off calls for an immediate return of Scotland’s highest courts to public ownership, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said there was no easy solution to recovering the land titles for the citizens of Edinburgh – who originally paid for the construction of Parliament House.

Details surrounding the loss of Parliament House to Edinburgh – come from an investigation undertaken by well known land reform campaigner Andy Wightman – who discovered that in 2006 the Scottish Government asked Edinburgh City Council to confirm the ownership of Parliament House – which includes Parliament Hall and Laigh Hall. The moves by the Scottish Government to clarify ownership of the court buildings occurred prior to the taxpayer funded £58 million refurbishment project (originally budgeted at over £120m) of the sprawling court buildings.

However, after inquiries by government lawyers on the exact ownership of Scotland’s most highest courts, Edinburgh City Council concluded they were unaware of who owned Parliament House. This led to ownership transferring to Scottish Ministers who then allowed the Faculty of Advocates to register the title deeds to the interior of the building in its name.

From investigations carried out by Andy Wightman, it transpired the Faculty of Advocates had in-fact, lobbied the Scottish Government to hand over ownership.

Writing on his blog, Mr Wightman said: “The Faculty of Advocates has for centuries regarded Parliament House as theirs. They had almost exclusive use of it and so, by means as yet unclear, within a month of Scottish Ministers taking ownership, the Faculty persuaded Scottish Ministers to convey to its ownership for no consideration the room known as the Laigh Hall within Parliament House.”

The title deeds to Parliament House now state the interior of the building is owned by the Faculty of Advocates while the exterior comes under the government’s ownership as part of the Scottish Courts Service.

The full in-depth investigation by Andy Wightman is available here: Edinburgh Council loses Parliament House

During First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood yesterday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was asked a question by Alison Johnstone  MSP (Lothians, Green Party) about the Parliament Hall land grab by the Faculty of Advocates.

In her reply, featured below along with video footage of FMQs, Nicola Sturgeon claimed she found no fault on the part of the Scottish Government – who handed over the titles to the Faculty of Advocates – effectively little more than a lawyer’s lobby group. The First Minister went on to warn “ there is no easy solution to the issue of restoring title to the City of Edinburgh Council” without giving a real explanation of why the titles were transferred in the first place.

The First Minister also gave no explanation on why £58 million pounds of taxpayers money was thrown at the Court of Session buildings which were then effectively handed over to the Faculty of Advocates free of charge.

Parliament House handed over to Faculty of Advocates FMQ’s Nicola Sturgeon 19 February 2015

Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green): It transpired this week that the 17th century old Parliament hall in Edinburgh was transferred from the collective ownership of my constituents to Scottish ministers without knowledge or recompense to the common good fund.

The City of Edinburgh Council failed in its role as steward of the fund, but is now seeking to resolve the situation. Can the First Minister assure my constituents that any requests from the council to restore ownership of that common good asset to the council will be considered seriously and favourably?

The First Minister – Nicola Sturgeon: I will briefly state the background to this issue, of which I am sure that Alison Johnstone is aware.

The Scottish Government’s position is that title to Parliament hall was taken by Scottish ministers in good faith, and that that was done with the full knowledge and consent of the council. The Scottish Courts Service and the Faculty of Advocates, therefore, have now got good title to that property.

Of course, I am more than happy to ask the relevant minister, Marco Biagi, to; meet and discuss the matter with the City of Edinburgh Council, but as far as I can see there is no fault here on the part of the Scottish Government.

Further, of course, title has since been passed on, so it may very well be that there is no easy solution to the issue of restoring title to the City of Edinburgh Council. I think that any questions on how the situation has arisen probably have to be directed to the council.

During the summer of 2013,  Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill – who is head of the Scottish Court Service Board, and the Scottish Court Service Chief Executive Eric McQueen appeared before MSPs at the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee to give evidence on court closures and the millions spent on Parliament House – yet neither the judge nor the Courts chief mentioned their astonishing secret to the MSPs present – that the title to Scotland’s highest court buildings had been swiped by the Faculty of Advocates in a deal on the sly with Scottish Ministers.

During questions from Justice Committee MSPs, SCS Chief Executive Eric McQueen said: “We are just coming to the end of the Parliament house contract; in total, the budget for it was £65 million and I think that we expect the final spend to be in the low £60 millions. The project has been delivered on budget, on time and on quality. How it has been delivered is a tribute to the Scottish Court Service.

McQueen continued: “I will give a potted history of the Parliament house situation. About 10 years ago, a scheme was in place that was going to run to way over £120 million. That was brought to a stop to allow us to reassess things and to consider the best strategy. At the same time, we looked at a business case for moving away from Parliament house altogether and having a development on a greenfield or brownfield site on the outskirts of Edinburgh. The major problem with Parliament house is that it is a grade A listed building and is a site of special historical interest. It should be a landmark building for the whole of Scotland.”

In an intervention, the Convener of the Justice Committee – Christine Grahame MSP said: “I am glad that you did not move to a greenfield site. It would have been a bit like going to B&Q. I do not mean to malign B&Q, but I like the old Parliament house building.”

Eric McQueen replied : “Had the decision been taken to move out of Parliament house, that asset would have been left with the Scottish Government. The infrastructure and the services were shot, and there was no fire certificate in place for the building. It would have cost as much to move out as to redevelop the building. From the point of view of the benefit to the nation and to the Scottish Government’s purse, the investment of the £65 million in Parliament house over that five or six year period was quite a sensible business case decision.”

Sitting by Eric McQueen was none other than Lord President Brian Gill himself, who did not at any stage of the meeting volunteer information to the Justice Committee in relation to the titles arrangements of Parliament House, despite the multi million pound taxpayer funded refurbishment.

Today, a spokesperson for the Scottish Court Service said: “The title to Parliament House, which includes the Laigh Hall situated underneath Parliament Hall, was registered by Scottish Ministers in 2006. The ownership of the interior of Laigh Hall was transferred to the Faculty of Advocates by the Scottish Ministers. Court buildings under the ownership of the Scottish Ministers were transferred to the Scottish Court Service (SCS) in 2010 under the Transfer of Property and in accordance with the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008.

Parliament House is a public building and is home to our Supreme Courts. The SCS recently completed an extensive £58 million redevelopment of the courthouse ahead of schedule and within budget. Following the refurbishment, an exhibition, ‘The Hidden Gem’, became an Edinburgh Fringe event attracting thousands of visitors. Parliament House also hosts annual open days enabling the public to better understand our legal system, while Parliament Hall is  open to visitors during working hours.”

Asked how much was returned to public coffers via “The Hidden Gem” exhibition, a spokesperson for the SCS replied: “The Fringe event was open to the public without an admission charge and marked the completion of the substantial modernisation programme by the Scottish Court Service which conserves Parliament House for future generations and provides the modern and digital facilities required by the Scottish justice system. Our position is that Court buildings under the ownership of the Scottish Ministers were transferred to the Scottish Court Service (SCS) in 2010 under the Transfer of Property and in accordance with the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008.”

The Scottish Government refused to answer calls for a statement and questions on whether any attempt would be made to recover the £58m of taxpayers money spent on Parliament House . Neither the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates – James Wolffe QC or the Faculty itself have issued any statement on the matter so far.

 

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TOXIC LAW: MacAskill gives lawyers ‘right to complain about complaints’, backs law change allowing anti-client Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to ditch investigations on rogue lawyers

Law change makes it easier for lawyers to look after their own. RECENT Scottish Government backed changes to rules governing how solicitors, advocates and the remainder of the legal profession investigate themselves now make it easier for the ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) to dismiss complaints against rogue lawyers at an earlier stage than is currently allowed, or, if the situation permits, reinstate a complaint after it has already been dismissed.

Now known as Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (Modification of Duties and Powers) Regulations 2014 the changes also give solicitors involved in conduct complaints a new right to complain about the manner in which the complaint was dealt with by the relevant professional organisation.

The controversial change –  allowing lawyers to complain about complaints, may inevitably lead to dodgy lawyers using this procedure as a tactic to avoid the already meagre disciplinary measures handed down by the Law Society of Scotland and the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT).

Earlier this year, the SSDT was shamed earlier this year in Lawyers Behaving Badly – a BBC Scotland investigation which revealed how “dishonest” lawyers escape being struck off in Scotland while in England & Wales, such conduct would result in a striking off.

Another change to the rules governing the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission effectively creates a quango within a quango – requiring the SLCC to set up an ‘independent’ panel to advise it on consumer and equality issues.

While the ‘independent’ advisory panel is more likely to be comprised of lawyers vested interests like the SLCC itself, MSPs were told it is is also to include representatives from consumer and equalities organisations. The panel’s remit will be to make recommendations to the Commission for improvements in practice and procedures; to make suggestions of topics for research connected to consumers; and to express views on other matters as requested.

Attending with the Justice Secretary, Roderick Campbell, a member of the Faculty of Advocates said of the advisory panel: “Putting into statute the independent advisory panel is a way forward and I am pleased that it will include representatives of consumer and equalities organisations. That ought to improve substantially how the commission functions, if it takes on board the panel’s comments.”

The overly pro-lawyer moves, are a result of discussions between a group consisting of the Law Society of Scotland, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, the Faculty of Advocates, the Association of Commercial Attorneys, the Legal Defence Union, the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal, Citizens Advice Scotland, Which? and the centre for professional legal studies at the University of Strathclyde law school were backed by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, who attended the Justice Committee on 5 August 2014 to give evidence on the proposed changes.

Rules change will benefit consumers little. The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (Modification of Duties and Powers) Regulations 2014, were laid under section 41 of the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007, passed by the Scottish Parliament eight years ago in what has now become a flawed attempt to clean up the law on how lawyers deal with complaints against their colleagues.

The instrument will make amendments to the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 to adjust the duties and powers of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) and to impose new duties and new powers on it. These include–

  • giving the SLCC the ability to revisit the eligibility of the complaint during the investigation phase;
  • providing for a more flexible order of consideration of aspects of complaints;
  • giving the SLCC the ability to discontinue the investigation of a complaint and, should it wish, reinstate a complaint where it has discontinued an investigation;
  • providing practitioners about whom a conduct complaint has been made with the power to complain to the SLCC if they feel that the conduct complaint has been poorly handled by the relevant professional organisation;
  • providing new powers for dealing with recommendations in reports on handling complaints;
  • providing for handling complaints to be reinstated;
  • placing an obligation on the SLCC to set up and consult an independent panel.

During the short debate, in which the amendments to legislation was passed by the Justice Committee and is a statutory instrument, Mr MacAskill claimed he had not heard any suggestion the heavily pro-lawyer, anti-client Scottish Legal Complaints Commission was “not  working  reasonably  well  and smoothly.”

Justice Committee Scottish Parliament 5th August 2014 SLCC Rules change

The short debate at the Scottish Parliament on the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (Modification of Duties and Powers) Regulations 2014 :

The Convener: If I have members’ attention, I will move on to agenda item 2, which is consideration of an affirmative instrument. The draft regulations amend and add to the duties and powers of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission with the aim of improving the complaints process.

The cabinet secretary has, of course, stayed with us, and I welcome from the Scottish Government Denise Swanson, head of the access to justice unit, and Alastair Smith, from the legal services directorate. The cabinet secretary will give evidence in advance of the debate on the regulations. I understand that he wishes to make a brief opening statement.

Kenny MacAskill: Thank you, convener. I am happy to be here to assist the committee in its consideration of the draft Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (Modification of Duties and Powers) Regulations 2014.

The Law Society of Scotland and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission previously contacted the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs and the Justice Committee to raise concerns about certain tactical aspects of the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007. The society and the commission agreed to form a working group with other stakeholders, the aim of which was to suggest changes to the legislation to improve the complaints process, which would benefit both the public and the profession. The group consisted of the Law Society, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, the Faculty of Advocates, the Association of Commercial Attorneys, the Legal Defence Union, the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal, Citizens Advice Scotland, Which? and the centre for professional legal studies at the University of Strathclyde law school.

The amending regulations are a direct result of the working group’s findings. They will significantly assist in making the legislation a more effective framework for dealing with legal complaints in Scotland, which is in keeping with the Scottish Government’s national outcome:

“Our public services are high quality, continually improving, efficient and responsive to local people’s needs.”

The regulations will rearrange the order in which the SLCC considers the various aspects of a complaint, to improve efficiency and better reflect current practice. They will give the SLCC the power to discontinue and reinstate service complaints and will give legal practitioners the right to complain about the handling of a complaint by a professional body. They will also require the SLCC to set up an independent panel to advise it on consumer and equality issues.

I hope that that is useful to the committee. I am happy to take questions.

The Convener: It all seems like common sense to me.

Margaret Mitchell: I thank the cabinet secretary for that opening statement. To what extent does the Scottish Government monitor the operation of the commission?

Denise Swanson (Scottish Government): The SLCC lays an annual report before Parliament. It is a non-departmental public body for which my unit has sponsorship responsibility. We work closely with the SLCC, including on its consultation on budget proposals. It is an unusual non-departmental public body in that it is funded not by the Scottish Government but by a levy on the profession. There is a certain amount of accountability to the profession regarding the way that the commission operates. We work very closely with it on improvements to and efficiency in its operations.

Margaret Mitchell: I am aware that ministers appoint members of the board. Given that the changes, which are all very sensible and should improve the complaints system, have come from stakeholders, and given that the commission came into being in 2008, is it not time for some post- legislative scrutiny of how the commission is operating and a more in-depth look at its performance and how it could be improved?

Kenny MacAskill: I am happy to consider any suggestions that Ms Mitchell or, indeed, the committee may have, but it seems that we have the appropriate balance. As Denise Swanson said, the commission is a non-departmental public body. We appoint the commission and there is a level of scrutiny there, but we have to have trust and faith in those who are appointed, and we do. Equally, it is quite clear that the levy, which is unusual, if not necessarily unique, ensures that there is a great deal of scrutiny by bodies that represent individual members of the profession.

I am happy to take on board any suggestions, but it seems that the commission, together with those stakeholders, has been working reasonably well. It has recognised that there have been challenges and difficulties, and it has got itself together and worked out what changes are needed. We are here as an Administration to support it, although we are open to suggestions.

Margaret Mitchell: I understand that the SLCC is funded by a levy on stakeholders—people who may be the subject of complaints—so I suppose that I am suggesting that we should ensure that there is more independent scrutiny.

Kenny MacAskill: Again, I say that I am open to suggestions about the level of scrutiny that you want. I have had no suggestion that the organisation is not working reasonably well and smoothly. Clearly, the Government has oversight and responsibility regarding the commission, as it does with any NDPB. It seems that some tweaks have been made and some challenges have been met. We are discussing and engaging with stakeholders.

My deputy and I meet the Faculty of Advocates and the Law Society regularly. Unless matters such as malfeasance were suggested, I do not see why the Government would wish to intervene in a body that appears to be liaising well and operating reasonably smoothly. However, we are always open to suggestions.

Margaret Mitchell: The measures in the regulations are good but, given their number, it would be good to have wider debate and parliamentary scrutiny. We in the Scottish Parliament are notoriously bad at doing post- legislative scrutiny.

Kenny MacAskill: That is a matter for the committee or perhaps for Opposition parties in considering Opposition days. One reason why many aspects have been referred to is that the field is complicated. I welcome the fact that the measures have been discussed and taken on board not only by those who would normally expect to be represented, such as the Law Society and the Faculty of Advocates, but by bodies that interact with the public, such as Citizens Advice Scotland and Which? The issue that you raise is for Parliament rather than the Government.

The Convener: I do not want to give evidence, but am I right in saying that an arm of the Law Society used to deal with complaints? That was not satisfactory. We have now moved to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the independent advisory panel will be important, as it will look at how the commission operates?

Kenny MacAskill: The basis for establishing the SLCC was public concern, which was transmitted across political parties, as the convener said. Such aspects could not and should not be dealt with by professional bodies regulating themselves.

Denise Swanson: It might help to note that, in the past two to three years, the SLCC has reported an improvement in the efficiency of its complaints handling. There was a bit of a backlog, which has been resolved. In the budget proposals that were recently consulted on, the SLCC reduced the levy. It is reporting on improvements in processes and in the time that it takes to process complaints.

Margaret Mitchell: Are you confident that the enforcement of recommendations is working well?

Denise Swanson: Yes. The number of cases that are taken to court for enforcement is reducing.

Roderick Campbell: I refer to my registered interest as a member of the Faculty of Advocates. Putting into statute the independent advisory panel is a way forward and I am pleased that it will include representatives of consumer and equalities organisations. That ought to improve substantially how the commission functions, if it takes on board the panel’s comments.

The Convener: I welcome the flexibility that is being built in, but I am surprised that it has taken a wee while to get that. It seems like common sense to have the ability to revisit eligibility questions and rearrange the order of consideration and to have the power to discontinue and reinstate service complaints. They all seem like measures to manage cases that should have been available from the start, so I very much welcome them.

Consultation packs were sent to a range of people. Were they all happy? Were the consultees—particularly the consumer organisations Citizens Advice Scotland, Which? and the Office of Fair Trading—content with the amendments to existing practices?

Denise Swanson: Yes. Those organisations were part of the group that worked on the proposals. The group’s remit was to agree which improvements could be delivered through practice change, which would require primary legislation and which would require subordinate legislation. The group agreed on the position.

The one outstanding issue concerns appeals going to the Court of Session. That element requires primary legislative change, so the group accepted that it must remain as it is at the moment.

The Convener: Do the rest of the proposed amendments have agreement across the spectrum?

Denise Swanson: Yes.

The Convener: That is fine.

Members have no more questions, so we will move on to item 3, which is the formal debate on the motion on the regulations. I invite the cabinet secretary to move motion S4M-10634. Motion moved,

That the Justice Committee recommends that the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (Modification of Duties and Powers) Regulations 2014 [draft] be approved.—[Kenny MacAskill.]

Motion agreed to.

The Convener: As members are aware, we are required to report on all affirmative instruments. Are members content to delegate authority to me to sign off the report? Members indicated agreement.

The overtly pro-lawyer changes to the SLCC’s rules, dubbed by critics as more “window dressing” come after Justice Secretary MacAskill earlier this year refused to give more powers to the Judicial Complaints Reviewer to hold dodgy Scottish judges to account, some of whom were revealed to have criminal records, tax dodging investments and shareholdings in businesses directly connected with the courts.

Although the legal profession claim the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is independent and funded by lawyers, in reality, the SLCC is paid for by a levy from lawyers who in turn recoup it many times over from unsuspecting clients. In short – if, as clients, you have paid legal fees since 2008, you have probably paid your solicitor’s SLCC complaints levy many times over.

Last year, a media investigation revealed lawyers secret links with ‘independent’ regulator, showing the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is actually run by former Law Society of Scotland employees, lawyers, and other vested interests from the legal profession.

 

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Fees please, not Justice: Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill encounters more opposition from lawyers vested interests in hearings at Scottish Parliament

Reforming Scotland’s courts for easier public access is opposed by legal profession. SCOTLAND’S “Victorian” civil justice system will be turned into even more of a train wreck” than it currently is, by the Scottish Government’s proposed Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill, according to representatives of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers who faced the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee earlier this week. The proposals to slightly widen Scots access to justice which are currently under consideration by the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee were originally recommended by the current Lord President, Lord Brian Gill in his 2009 Scottish Civil Courts Review.

The latest opposition from the vested interests of the legal profession to the planned changes to Scotland’s inaccessible courts come after last week’s evidence from the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates who are both traditionally opposed to any reforms to the courts which allow the public greater and easier access to justice without having to go through expensive solicitors and QCs.

The overall tone of all opposition currently put before msps against the planned changes to the courts boils down to this – don’t allow people to access justice on the cheap, or do it themselves without a battalion of expensive lawyers and other so-called legal professionals.

The coverage from Tuesday’s session of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee is available here :

Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill Justice Committee – Scottish Parliament: 25th March 2014

One of the more controversial aspects of the Courts Reform bill, that of transferring most of the Court of Session’s existing workload to the sheriff court by allowing sheriff courts to hear cases up to the value of £150,000, has drawn special ire from lawyers and advocates who claim the sheriff courts are currently overwhelmed with work and cannot cope with the increased workload.

However, the more obvious factor in many from the legal profession opposing the switch from Scotland’s Court of Session to the sheriff courts is that of fees.

It is well known solicitors, law firms and advocates, both junior & senior counsel would rather operate in the expensive exclusive and tightly controlled environment of the Court of Session in Edinburgh rather than scuttle around Scotland having to attend cases and possibly pick up a lot less in fees.

The Scottish Government have included in the bill plans for a specialist personal injury court which would take many of the cases being transferred from the Court of Session. However, msps heard more from lawyers who attacked this plan as being “seriously underfunded”.

In further evidence, Mr Ronnie Conway, who is the Scottish co-ordinator of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers also maintained that projected savings to the legal aid fund were “illusory” because 85% of legally aided cases were successful and costs were recovered from the defender.

Laughably, Alan Rogerson of the Forum of Scottish Claims Managers, told msps that insurers wanted cases to settle rather than ending up in litigation. Not really. Not if it the claim has anything to do with the Master Policy or is a negligence case involving a lengthening list of professions and public bodies.

The Law Society of Scotland and Faculty of Advocates have previously given evidence against the reforms, which are also opposed by trade unions for the effect they are said to be likely to have on damages claims brought by their members. Typically, the legal profession has come out against the court reforms, with both the Law Society of Scotland & Faculty of Advocates opposing the changes. However, Citizens Advice Scotland and the consumer body Which? are among those who support the plans, on the ground that they would simplify the process of litigation.

The Scottish Government issued a Press Release earlier this week showing that while the number of civil cases being heard at sheriff court level has been declining – down 10 per cent between 2011-12 and 2012-13, a 43 per cent drop since 2008-09, the number of civil cases being heard at the Court of Session has remained steady. Personal injury cases accounted for 79 per cent of cases raised in the General Department of Court of Session .

Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill said: “The latest civil law statistics underline why we need to reform Scotland’s courts and in particular ensure that the right cases are heard in the right courts, at the right time. As highlighted by Lord Gill, our civil justice courts have remained relatively unchanged for more than a generation and need to be made more effective and efficient.”

“At present too many cases, particularly lower value personal injury cases, are being raised in the Court of Session – clogging up the system and resulting in higher costs and delays for the parties involved. Through our court reforms we will ensure such cases can be heard at a new, national specialist personal injury court, where they can be dealt with more swiftly at a lower cost. This will have little impact on the sheriff courts themselves – representing only a three per cent transfer of civil cases – but will have a considerable impact on the Court of Session, enabling it to focus on more complex cases.”

 

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Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill v Vested Interests: Law Society warns against taking £150K claims away from ‘Victorian’ Court of Session’s stranglehold on Scots access to justice

Can a Sheriff tell the difference between £5K & £150K? Law Society thinks not. REFORMING Scotland’s Courts is never going to be an easy task when the judiciary, the legal profession and some of the people who actually run the courts system have vested significant financial interests in maintaining the current way of how things are done in our expensive, mostly out of reach and much derided justice system.

When a business is highly profitable, closed shop and draws in billions for lawyers, law firms, judges, their relatives, and anyone else who earns their keep from Scotland’s justice system, then why change it? – the Law Society of Scotland told msps earlier this week in their submissions to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee who are considering the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill

After all, the poor little Scots client and their family, matters little to lawyers with pound signs in their eyes and the wealthy, secretive judges clinging desperately to their hidden interests and fat Fred Goodwin style pension books.

Unless by chance, that same poor little Scots client and their hard working family has a legal case, a family tragedy, or a damages claim which can be milked for fees right up to the last minute before the lawyer walks off into the sunset, leaving the client unrepresented on the steps of Scotland’s ‘highest court’ – the Court of Session – also known as the worst, most abrasive, most intimidating and most expensive highest court in the entire European Union.

And then, lets not forget those hard working Scots clients who happen to have a property or land which a solicitor works out could be his at the end of the case, leading to a not too lengthy repossession to pay extortionate legal fees, handed over to the solicitor in a wink by some smiling happy judge who fails to disclose his own wife runs the very same law firm who are also known to fiddle their fee notes on a regular basis.

Then of course, there are the criminal cases where, if there is a prospect of extorting a few more million from Scotland’s publicly funded annual £150 Million legal aid budget, it’s full steam ahead for lawyers and the legal aid board have to fork out or else.

So you just know when the idea of reforming Scotland’s courts comes along to the Scottish Parliament, the vested interests crowd will be there protesting about tweaks, turns and a lot of what is effectively window dressing, because fiddling about with the current stitch up may impinge on lawyers profits. Easy to spot, about as easy to spot as a judge lifting his tax dodging offshore trust from one island and making off with it to another.

This week, a number of vested interests published their submissions to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee on the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill. Unsurprisingly, the Law Society, Faculty of Advocates and the Solicitor Advocates all came out against many of the key proposals in the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill.

Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill 18 March evidence session at Justice Committee, Scottish Parliament

The Law Society of Scotland said in it’s own submission that the proposals contained in the bill could adversely affect access to justice due to the insufficient resources being allocated to implement the major reforms.

The Law Society went on to express concern at the dramatic increase in the threshold for cases to be heard in the Court of Session (up to £150,000 from £5,000) and warned that this will result in a large transfer of cases from the Court of Session (where no one without a deep pocket and a bent brief obtains justice) to the sheriff courts – without a matching increasing in the number of sheriffs.

The Law Society also expressed concern about the proposed changes to judicial review in Scotland, which will introduce a three month time limit on judicial review cases. The Law Society has already warned that this will restrict access to justice, although anyone who actually bothers to read some of the Judicial Reviews handed down by the Court of Session may well wonder why anyone bothers asking help from what is effectively a wave through for injustice and the vested interests of big business.

Adding to the profession’s mission to keep the money rolling in, the Faculty of Advocates claimed the reforms will put the best legal representation out of reach for ordinary men and women and favour those with deep pockets – as if it doesn’t already. Ever heard the one about the QC, the bung and the ruined client? It’s a common joke around Parliament Square …

The Faculty went on to claim that one reason litigants pursue their cases in the Court of Session is because of the right to instruct counsel, who often act for pursuers on a no win no fee basis in personal injury cases. However, the Faculty forgot to explain to msps some of the other less professional ways in which Advocates end up very much in pocket even after allegedly representing someone on a no win no fee case.

In the Sheriff court, the Faculty said, use of counsel has to be sanctioned. Raising the threshold to £150,000 would therefore make it more difficult to instruct counsel, which the Faculty of Advocates claimed would reduce choice.

The Society of Solicitor Advocates also queried the impact of the Bill on access to justice, especially in relation to the lack of automatic sanction for counsel. It also warned that any financial savings that may be brought in by the changes will be “small and disproportionate to the detriment the changes will bring about,” and that the proposals will not make the justice system any more efficient, faster or less costly.

As usual, party litigants, those with out legal representation and anyone with a case which does not draw in big numbers, fails to get any mention.

All submissions of evidence for the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill can be read here: Submissions received on the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill

 

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