Lord Advocate addresses Inspectorate report

The Lord Advocate has accepted a report into how domestic abuse is prosecuted, which has emphasised that the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service must speed up the work it is doing to improve the service it gives to victims.  

The report assessed the work of COPFS in the management and prosecution of domestic abuse cases that are heard by sheriff without a jury. The independent HM Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland made 27 recommendations for COPFS. The Lord Advocate has thanked the Inspectorate for the report, and accepted the recommendations, with work underway to make changes.

Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain KC said:

“The report shares powerful personal experiences of those affected by domestic abuse. I would like to acknowledge the strength of the victims who contributed to this inspection. I understand how valuable their experience is and am focused on change to act on what they say.

“Appalling escalating instances of domestic abuse have led to the deaths of victims. Almost all victims of domestic abuse are women, girls and children. This is the reality which we must confront. For women to be confident to report crime they have suffered they must be sure they will be treated with empathy by the justice system and will not let be down. This report recognises that we must do more to secure that trust. 

“COPFS has not always got it right in the way it communicates with victims and that is a matter of profound regret to me. This report contains many criticisms and does not show an organisation working as I want it to.

“I meet many amazing procurator fiscal staff who are dedicated to serving vulnerable victims. The challenge that I, and the leadership of COPFS, have is to inspire all our people to deliver a prosecution service informed by trauma.

“Whilst there is much to do, there is a clear and ambitious pathway of work transforming how prosecutors respond to an epidemic of domestic abuse. It is of the utmost importance to me as Lord Advocate that this work is advanced without delay.”

Dr Emma Forbes, Procurator Fiscal for Domestic Abuse, shares more of what is being delivered in 2024 by COPFS:

“We are focused on three key areas of change this year. Improving our service is a long-term project, but where we have identified changes which can be made quickly we have been doing so.

“A new approach taken by COPFS as part of changes in pilot areas, has been to engage at an earlier stage with victims of domestic abuse by offering better, proactive communications with prosecutors.

“We have been investing in digital transformation to improve access to information about cases and guidance about what to expect - to better equip victims to feel more informed and engaged in the justice process.

“We want our people, at every level, to be equipped with the confidence and skills to engage with and listen to victims, and to respond to the many forms domestic abuse takes. We have been building on and are prioritising the provision of training.

This means that all our people will have access to specialist training which is relevant to the different knowledge and skills roles need to respond effectively to the impact of trauma and gender-based violence.

“The report has emphasised the value of COPFS’ work with partners which has allowed a pilot scheme for summary case management. This new approach means earlier decision making, enhanced evidence-gathering and robust judicial management of cases. This has reduced the number of adjournments in domestic abuse cases and minimised anxious waiting times for victims. 

“This early and effective intervention by prosecutors and our partners in pilot areas to tackle offending and enable victims to engage effectively in the justice process. We have already expanded this approach to Glasgow Sheriff Court and will do more across Scotland throughout 2024.

“As Scotland’s prosecutors, we want to make sure that we achieve the best possible resolutions for victims. We will continue to address the recommendations and areas for improvement that IPS have highlighted.”