The life of a trainee in the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is varied, demanding and a superb training for criminal court work

I joined the Procurator Fiscal Service as I was keen to pursue a career prosecuting in the public interest. The legal traineeship provided by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) did not disappoint and can only be described as a unique experience. The training and development provided in the two years of your traineeship is second to none.

The structure of the traineeship involves working in a wide range of specialist departments within COPFS, essentially giving trainees a grounding in different aspects of the work undertaken by COPFS.

Starting at the top

I joined Crown Office, the headquarters of COPFS, as a trainee in August 2003 and spent my first three months working within the High Court Unit in Chambers Street, Edinburgh. This was a particularly responsible placement, as I was involved in the preparation of bail appeals in the High Court. That meant liaising with advocates depute and attending the bail court as a minuter each morning.

Other first year placements in Crown Office allow trainees to get involved in the appeals process, Policy Unit, Financial Crime Unit (National Case Work Division) and International Unit.

Overall, the first year within Crown Office gives trainees a good understanding of the role that Crown Office and its individual departments play in the running of the prosecution service as a whole. This is of great benefit when, having left headquarters behind, a fiscal needs to work and liaise with the different specialist departments in Crown Office.

Second year local

The second year of traineeship is spent within a procurator fiscal’s office. This could essentially be anywhere in Scotland and in any size of office.

The main role of second year trainees is to assist the procurator fiscal in carrying out his or her duties, the principal of which is prosecuting criminal acts in the public interest. I was able to get involved in the process from the earliest stage, when cases are reported by the police or other reporting agencies. “Marking” a case involves assessing the evidence and, if there is enough evidence to support a prosecution, deciding whether a prosecution is appropriate in the public interest. This can be a difficult decision as there are often many factors to take into account, and the support and advice of experienced colleagues helped me gain confidence.

Second year trainee duties also included representing the Crown in court. A great deal of training is provided before your first court appearance, but it remains a daunting prospect for most trainees. However, I found it was a question of biting the bullet, and thankfully, before long I had overcome my fears and was taking the life of a court practitioner in my stride.

I was surprised to learn that the work of a procurator fiscal depute is so varied. There is a lot more to the job than presenting cases in court, which is what the public most often associate the role with.

The other principal duty of the procurator fiscal is the investigation of all sudden, suspicious or unexplained deaths in Scotland. This means liaising with doctors and instructing post mortems to be carried out where necessary. Clearly, with such a role comes a great deal of responsibility as well as the need for a high degree of sensitivity.

Demanding role

The role of the procurator fiscal and the COPFS trainee is a varied and often demanding one. I would be telling a lie if I did not acknowledge that the environment in which we work is highly pressured, but it is also at times very rewarding.

The department extended its flexible working scheme a year ago, to allow deputes the ability to work non-standard hours. This increased flexibility has proved particularly helpful for deputes with family commitments.

Would I recommend a COPFS traineeship? If you want a vast amount of criminal court experience there is probably no better place to train than with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. By the end of your second year the experience you have gained allows you to feel confident conducting any procedural or trials courts within the district and sheriff courts. For anyone looking to forge a career in the field of criminal law, COPFS provides a good environment in which to do so. Not only is the work challenging but no two days are the same. The variety of work a trainee carries out makes the job both stimulating and enjoyable.

Rebecca Kynaston is a depute procurator fiscal attached to the Dunfermline office

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