Arbroath report

OFFICE INSPECTION - ARBROATH

7 & 8 MARCH 2006

Background

In accordance with our Business Plan, we are committed to regular audits of District and Area Offices to ensure compliance with race relations, policies and strategies.

This is our report of the Procurator Fiscal's Office at Arbroath. The Arbroath office is part of the Tayside Area.

Methodology

Our approach to office inspections involves consideration of the following areas:

  • Adherence to policy guidelines in relation to prosecution of racist crime
  • Use of interpreters and translation issues
  • Employment issues
  • Consultation with communities
  • Deaths involving racial and/or cultural awareness issues.
  • Complaints against the police which are of a criminal nature

The following measures are taken to perform the inspection process.

Sampling of Race Charges

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) has a single corporate database (herein referred to as the National Database) that connects all Procurator Fiscal Offices and Crown Office units and facilitates the transfer of legal casework. An extract of data from the National Database is obtained from Management Information Division in Crown Office, containing details of all charges with a racial element reported to Fiscal Offices over the course of financial years 2003-04 and 2004-05. It is worth noting that the database is an operational one, not statistical, and hence is 'live', being constantly updated as cases progress. As such the extract is a 'snapshot' as at date of extraction (current extract relates to 'as at' June 2005).

The General Sample

We are concerned with the statutory race charges, as created by the Crime and Disorder Act 1988. A sample of Section 50A racial charges and charges with Section 96 racial aggravations recorded against them is drawn from the most recent 12 months' worth of data contained in the extract and the related case papers were requested from the office and examined by the team. Those charges are those that appear, as recorded on the database, to have been dealt with in accordance with the guidelines - this part of the sampling exercise was designed simply to be an independent check on compliance with policy.

The charges are drawn using a stratified random sampling method. For details on the sampling methodology employed, please contact Kirsty MacLean (e-mail Kirsty.maclean@scotland.gsi.gov.uk) or telephone 0141 229 6203).

The Risk-Assessed Sample

Our inspection process is partly based on risk assessment. Therefore, in addition to the general sample referred to above, all case papers containing any charges which appear, as recorded on the database, to have been dealt with in contravention of the guidelines, are specifically requested for examination. Given the potential importance of such cases and since these charges are of particular interest to us, we request the relevant case papers in relation to all such charges over a longer time period than that for the general sample, normally 24 months as compared to 12 months. However, the data showed a high level of non-compliance with policy for cases reported in 2002/03 [1] therefore we asked for these papers also to be available for inspection.

The contraventions of policy that can be identified from examination of the data extract are charges in respect of which a fiscal fine or warning letter have been issued or proceedings taken in the District Court. (Note however that revised guidance from Crown Office was issued to staff on 23 June 2004, which thereafter made it possible to issue a warning letter in exceptional circumstances, with the agreement of the Area Fiscal).

Case papers are also requested which contain any charges that are recorded on the database as being unmarked (ie no decision yet taken as to how to proceed) or any charges where no proceedings have been taken (given the policy to always proceed where there is sufficient evidence). Case papers are also requested which contained any charges marked for 'merge' (this is where the marking Depute has decided to amalgamate one or more charges reported by the police, usually for sound legal reasons). Any other charges that appear to have been marked and/or dealt with in an unusual or unexpected manner (eg charges/cases which have been deserted) are also requested for inspection.

Case papers are also requested to be made available for inspection, regarding any deaths which were reported and investigated over the previous 12 month period where:

  • special consideration was required, as defined in Annex 3 in Chapter 12 of the Book of Regulations [2] (racial and cultural awareness)
  • the ethnicity of the deceased was in some way related to the cause of death (eg the murder of someone from a minority ethnic background).

A questionnaire covering a number of issues related to the areas for consideration (as outlined above) is sent to the office in advance of the inspection and returns are analysed to allow exploration of any issues raised in the returns, at the time of the inspection.

The composition of staff in post (numbers, grades and ethnicity) in the office is considered prior to the inspection visit. Similarly considered is the proportion of staff who have attended the Diversity Awareness Programme.

2001 Census data was obtained from the General Register Office for Scotland (GROS) showing Sheriff Court Districts (which equate to Fiscal Office area) by ethnic group, to allow us to consider the staff ethnicity information in the context of local population ethnic mix.

Race Crime

Crown Office policy on the prosecution of race crime is a robust one and the execution of the policy is closely monitored by the Department. A member of legal staff decides what course of action to take in each case, this is then checked by the District Fiscal (who may be the original "marker", however) for compliance with the Departmental policy and a copy of the case is then sent to the Area Fiscal. Responsibility for the monitoring of compliance in such cases lies with the Area Fiscal. Three-monthly reports from the Areas are considered at the Legal and Policy Forum [3].

Table 1 - Racial Charges and Racial Aggravations reported to Arbroath Fiscal Office, 2002-03, 2003-04 and 2004-05

2002-03

2003-04

2004-05

Section 50A(1) (a) charges

6

0

0

Section 50A(1) (b) charges

6

18

11

Section 96 aggravations

8

8

3

The data extracted from the National Database revealed that in respect of the Arbroath office, in financial year (FY) 2002-03:

  • 6 Section 50A(1) (a) charges were reported
  • 6 Section 50A(1) (b) charges were reported
  • 8 charges with Section 96 aggravations recorded against them were reported

And in FY 2003-04:

  • No Section 50A(1) (a) charges were reported
  • 18 Section 50A(1) (b) charges were reported
  • 8 charges with Section 96 aggravations recorded against them were reported

And in FY 2004-05

  • No Section 50A(1) (a) charges were reported
  • 11 Section 50A(1) (b) charges were reported
  • 3 charges with Section 96 aggravations recorded against them were reported

In relation to the following discussion of the sample please note that the number of case papers requested is not the same as number of charges drawn for sampling because a case can (and frequently does) contain more than one charge. Since the sampling is conducted at charge level, in some instances, more than one charge from a single case is selected into the sample. This meant that the number of case papers requested is lower than the number of individual charges selected.

The general sample

A sample of 11 Section 50A charges and 1 charge with a Section 96 aggravation recorded against them were drawn. Resulting from the sampling exercise therefore, a total of 11 case papers (12 charges) were subsequently requested for inspection.

In respect of the general sample of 11 Section 50A charges, the office was unable to find 1 case (containing 1 charge). With regard, therefore to the remaining 10 cases (10 charges) we found that policy had been complied with in 9 of the cases.

It was discovered that the remaining case had been selected for random sampling when it did in fact involve a "no proceedings" marking of a s 50 A (1) (b) charge. Examination of the papers revealed that the case had in fact been marked by the District Fiscal who had given full consideration to the circumstances of the case.

In respect of the sample of 1 charge with a Section 96 aggravation recorded against it the office was unable to find the case. We are unable therefore to comment on this case.

The risk-assessed sample

A total of 16 charges (13 case papers) were automatically requested for inspection. These consisted of:

  • 6 charges recorded as being marked to receive a warning letter; 1 reported in FY 2002-03; 5 reported in FY 2003-04
  • 5 charges recorded as being marked for 'no proceedings', 4 reported in FY 2002-03; 1 reported in 03-04
  • 2 charges with a Section 96 aggravation recorded against them, recorded as being marked to receive a warning letter, I reported in 2003-04 and the other 1 reported in FY 2004-05
  • 1 charge with a Section 96 aggravation recorded against it, recorded as being marked for 'no proceedings', reported in FY 2004-05
  • 2 charges with a Section 96 aggravation recorded against them marked for fiscal fine, reported in FY 2002-03

Of the risk assessed sample the office was only able to produce three sets of case papers (3 charges). The reason for this was that in accordance with Crown Office guidance where the papers have been marked for an alternative to prosecution disposal or no proceedings, the papers only require to be retained for one year. Crown Office IT department confirmed that thereafter such cases would only remain on the system for one year after they were closed. Given that the ten sets of missing case papers ranged from 2002 to 2004 it is legitimate therefore that the cases are no longer available, either hard copy or electronically. The result is that a total of 10 case papers (13 charges) detailed below could not be inspected and therefore we are not in a position to offer comment:

  • 6 x s 50 A (1) (b) charges marked for "warning letter"
  • 4 x s 50 A (1) (b) charges marked "no proceedings"
  • 1 x s 96 aggravation marked for "warning letter"
  • 2 x s 96 aggravation marked for Fiscal Fine

Three sets of case papers (three charges) were therefore reviewed;

Of the 1 S 50A(1)(b) charge recorded as being marked for 'no proceedings':

  • This was found to be appropriate in the circumstances of the case

Of the 1 charge with a Section 96 aggravation recorded against it, recorded as being marked to receive a warning letter, reported in FY 2004-05:

  • Only a copy case was available. The charge involved a racially aggravated breach of the peace where the accused was charged with racially abusing police officers. As only a copy case was available (with no minutes) we could not be aware of the full details of the case and are therefore unable to comment further.

Of the 1 charge with a Section 96 aggravation recorded against it, recorded as being marked for 'no proceedings', reported in FY 2004-05:

  • This was a breach of the peace charge with a section 96 aggravation taken up by the marking depute who correctly changed the charge to section 50 A (1) (b) which then proceeded through court. [4]
Monitoring of race crime

The District Fiscal is responsible for monitoring race crime in her office and the Area Fiscal monitors all cases for the Tayside Area.

Once a case has been marked, the case and the form A (completed by the marking depute) is given to the District Fiscal to check for compliance with Crown Office policy on race crime. Thereafter the form A and a copy of the standard police report along with the District Fiscal's comments (if appropriate) are sent to the Area Fiscal for monitoring. On completion of the case form B is filled in by the court Depute and passed to the District Fiscal along with the case papers for checking.

It was noted, as with many offices, that the District Fiscal could not be sure that all race crime cases are actually passed to her for monitoring. No management information printouts are taken from the computer system that would allow a check to be made to ensure that all cases have been dealt with.

The District Fiscal inputs details of race crime cases onto a Tayside Area spreadsheet. This is sent to the Area Fiscal` personal assistant who forwards the details onto the Legal and Policy Forum along with details relating to the other offices in the Area.

The District Fiscal advised that she would expect feedback from the Area Fiscal if examples of non compliance with policy came to his attention.

Interpreters

Three of the cases that were inspected required interpreting services.

There were no known problems with the use of interpreters.

Legal members of staff note requirements for an interpreter on case papers and an administrative member of staff sends a letter along with the appropriate forms to the Interpreting Services.

The office does not keep a note of cases where an interpreter has been ordered and the computer system does not have an available field to record this. As a result there was no information on the actual number of times an interpreter was requested in the period concerned (1st January to 31 December 2006) [5].

The Office Manager advised that the depute in court does not complete Section 1 of the 'Interpreting Monitoring Form' and the interpreter does not always complete Section 2. It has been found in many offices that deputes do not always complete their part of the form. However, with reference to interpreters completing their part, Sections 3.2.2 and 7.6 of the ' Crown Office Interpreting and Translation Handbook - Guidance on Policy and Best Practice' clearly states that:

  • ' The interpreter's fee should not be paid until the monitoring form has been received back from the interpreter''.

Deaths

There were two deaths reported in Arbroath within the period concerned (1 January 2005 to 31 December 2005) where racial and cultural considerations were a feature. Both files were reviewed during the visit and were found to have been dealt with appropriately.

One death was by natural causes and there was correspondence on the file between the District Fiscal and the relatives, the consulate and the travel insurers.

The other related to a murder. The case was prepared in Dundee and was still ongoing at the time of inspection (now resulted in a finding of guilt)

The file showed that the police had arranged for the family to travel to this country and the District Fiscal offered to speak with the relatives but this was declined. There was evidence on the file that the District Fiscal had been in touch with the consulate through the Embassy and there was ongoing contact with the family through the police family liaison officer and the precognition officer at Dundee. Interpreters were to be arranged by the Dundee Procurator Fiscal Office for the trial, if required.

It was noted that consideration was given to paying the travel costs to Scotland of the family of the deceased but it was decided that there was no power to authorise such. In the event a fund was created by locals for the family. Since April 2006 the Victim Information and Advice unit (part of Crown Office) are authorised to make such expenditure.

Complaints Against The Police

The Procurator Fiscal deals with complaints against Police Officers which are of a criminal nature and we seek to monitor those with a minority ethnic dimension.

In the relevant period no such complaints were reported.

Employment

Latest data [6] shows that 99.16 per cent of the population in the Arbroath Sheriff Court District area is from a white background. Other ethnic groups, of which Chinese is the largest at 0.21 per cent, account for 0.84 per cent.

As at 1st January 2006, Arbroath had a staff of 5, consisting of:

Legal staff

  • 1 Procurator Fiscal
  • 1 Procurator Fiscal Deputes

Administrative staff

  • 3 Band B staff

There are no members of staff who are from a minority ethnic background (as self-reported to Human Resources Division in COPFS via survey) in the Arbroath office.

There has been no recent [7] local recruitment in the Arbroath office and therefore there has been no need to place advertisements for vacancies in the minority ethnic community. The District Fiscal advised that the Dundee office would deal with such.

Diversity Awareness

As at 7 March 2006, all the staff in the Arbroath office had attended the Departmental Diversity Awareness Programme.

Consultation

Both the District Fiscal and depute are members of the Area Diversity Team. Neither attends any other national or local groups where race or diversity is a topic although feedback of such events are provided to them at the area diversity meetings.

Conclusions

The Arbroath office showed an apparent high level of non-compliance with Crown Office policy relating to race crime in 2002/03. However, the related papers are no longer available and therefore could not be reviewed to determine the reasons. In respect of cases in years 2003/04 and 2004/05, with the exception of two cases that could not be located, we found that all others had been dealt with appropriately indicating that any problem that might have existed was now historical.

Both the District Fiscal and the Depute are involved in the Area Diversity Team. There is no further outreach into minority ethnic communities. However, the Area office keeps them informed of events and initiatives.

The two deaths reviewed at the office had been dealt with in a sensitive manner and every effort was made to communicate with appropriate persons/groups.

We were informed that payments are sometimes made to interpreters without the interpreters' form being completed. Interpreters should only be paid after they have completed their section of the 'Interpreting Monitoring Form' in accordance with Crown Office rules.

[1] NB: These cases were dealt with before the current District Fiscal was in post.

[2] The Book of Regulations provides guidance and instruction to members of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service on the way Procurators Fiscal should be carry out their duties.

[3] The remit of the Legal and Policy Forum is: To take the lead in the development of prosecution policy and consider legal and operational issues within the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. The Forum also acts as sounding board for wider management issues and a means for all Area Fiscals to have an input into the overall management of the COPFS

[4] NB. As a result of the breach of the peace charge with section 96 aggravation being changed, the system records the charge as "no proceedings" despite the fact that another charge was substituted

[5] Note: six payments were made to interpreters during the period but some may relate to services provided before the period concerned.

[6] General Register Office for Scotland 2001 Census of Population.

[7] At least since December 2004.