COPFS praised for ‘robust’ review scheme despite delay in notifications

The Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland (IPS) has published a two-part report examining operational effectiveness of the Victims’ Right to Review Scheme and the complaints handling process.

May 17, 2018
By Joe Shine
Michelle Macleod

Although inspectors found the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service’s (COPFS’s) review process was robust and thorough, it said not all victims were notified of decisions not to prosecute and made 11 recommendations.

And the IPS said it was pleased to see a “substantial number” of recommendations made in its thematic report in December 2015 on the complaints system achieved, but raised concerns about the absence of registering themes, actions taken, and lessons learnt from previous complaints.

As of July 2015, victims of crime or bereaved relatives were given the right to seek a review of a decision made by COPFS not to prosecute a criminal case or to discontinue criminal proceedings that have commenced.

Of the 50,729 cases where there was a decision not to prosecute or discontinue a prosecution between April 2016 and March 2017, COPFS received 166 applications seeking a review.

Seventeen of these were overturned, while 146 were upheld.

The IPS reviewed 57 Victims’ Right to Review Scheme applications, 91 per cent of which were conducted independently, thoroughly and to a high standard, it said.

In the majority of the 57 applications received, efforts were made to respond to all issues raised and where there was a fault or poor service, it was acknowledged, often with an apology.

However, it noted that some applicants were not notified of decisions not to prosecute, suggesting the use of IT solutions to prevent this from happening.

And 70 per cent of the COPFS’s responses were issued more than 20 working days after receipt of the application.

The IPS also recommended the COPFS should provide an explanation for the delay and an indication of the timescale for completion for all cases likely to take longer than 20 days.

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

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

“However, not all victims are notified of decisions not to prosecute. This policy has the potential, in some cases, to deny victims access to an effective remedy, in the form of a prosecution, if the decision is overturned.”

In its follow-up report on Complaints Handlings and Feedback, the IPS said it found a number of positive findings, including the appointment of a senior prosecutor to “champion” customer service and greater awareness of procedures and processes for dealing with complaints.

Of the 15 recommendations made in the 2015 thematic report, COPFS has achieved ten and is in the process of completing a further three.

The report also revealed that since making the ‘First Impressions’ customer service course mandatory for those who have direct contact with members of the public, frontline staff have greater confidence to deal with complaints.

Although the report was mainly positive, some areas of improvement were identified, such as a lack of empathy from some employees and failure to provide reassurance to complainants, which detracted from the quality of the response.

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

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

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

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