A picture of a Scottish prosecution service under severe financial pressure is emerging from submissions to the inquiry into the service by Holyrood's Justice Committee.
The Scottish Police Federation (SPF), the Procurators Fiscal Society and the Public & Commercial Services (PCS) Union, whose members include fiscals, all speak in their written evidence of a service struggling to cope with rising demand at the same time as its budget is being cut.
The SPF, while recognising the "inevitably dedicated, professional and incredibly hardworking" staff of the service, comments that it appears that "the service is overwhelmed with work and that those working within it are under considerable pressure as a consequence", as fiscals are often unprepared and lacking knowledge of cases that come to court, and there are significant delays in the holding of fatal accident inquiries. However, centralised policy decisions such as in relation to domestic abuse cases, and the advent of central marking units, add to the bureaucracy and delay in dealing with the service - as does the centralising of witness citations.
It adds that while serious and complex cases are now being presented in a more "polished" fashion, in many cases there are "what can only be described as farcical levels of disturbance and inconvenience" to victims and witnesses. "The volume of cases that can be laid down for a particular court hearing are by any measure unrealistic", the submission continues. "It appears to the SPF that large numbers of cases are called, not because there is any prospect of the case being heard, but to ensure timescales can be adhered to."
Further, fiscals are lacking in the skillsets involved in the more specialised areas of policing, including cases involving new technologies; different fiscals interpret legislation differently; and there is inconsistency between fiscals' offices in what they ask from the police.
Financial pressures are the first point highlighted in the Procurators Fiscal Society submission: since 2009-10 the service budget has been cut from £118.3m to £113.45m, a real terms cut of more than 20% and an "incongruous" disparity when considered alongside the ringfenced budget for Police Scotland. The number of reports submitted is not a true measure of workload, given the increase in serious cases, the types of crime involved, and the complexity of these cases, with an increasing number going to trial.
"In summary," the submission states, "legal and administrative resources are decreasing at the same time as the level and complexity of serious cases increases. It not only reduces the opportunity for prosecutors to invest in delivering even higher quality of service but puts at risk the high level of service delivered to date. This is creating a huge risk for the criminal justice system as a whole."
The PCS evidence speaks of morale within the service as being "at an all-time low", for various reasons including pay. A 1% settlement is being imposed despite opposition from members, many of whom "have suffered a decline in living standards over the last years of a continuing cap on pay" and are "unable to move through a pay system which makes them feel valued and can be seen as a fair day's pay for a fair day's work due to present restrictions".
There is also heavy reliance on short term staff contracts, leading to job insecurity, and temporary promoted posts. "PCS believe that we have a high percentage of reworked cases because of problems with staffing also causing stress related illness", the union adds.