Ayr office report

OFFICE INSPECTION - AYR

21 APRIL 2005

Background

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 Ayr. The Ayr office is part of the Ayrshire Area.

Methodology

Our approach to the office inspections involved 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

The following measures were taken to inform the inspection process:

Sampling of race charges

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 was 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 2002-03 and 2003-04. 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 was a 'snapshot' as at January 2005.

A sample of Section 50 racial charges and charges with Section 96 racial aggravations recorded against them was drawn from the data for 2003-04 and the related case papers were requested from the office and examined by the team. The charges in the sample drawn were charges that appeared, 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 were 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).

Additionally all case papers containing any charges which appeared, as recorded on the database, to have been dealt with in contravention to the policy, were automatically requested for examination. Since these charges were of particular interest to us, we requested the relevant case papers in relation any such charges from both 2002-03 and 2003-04.

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

Case papers were also automatically requested which contained any charges that were recorded on the database as being unmarked, or any charges where no proceedings had been taken due to a delay by any agency.

Similarly, charges reported to the fiscal office in 2003-04 that were recorded as being marked for 'no proceedings' were specifically requested for examination, because the way in which the coding system employed by the National Database operates does not allow for recording of reason for a marking of 'no proceedings' at charge level.

Case papers for cases that were included in in-house statistical returns (covering the 3 month period from September - November 2004) on racist crime to the Crown Office Legal and Policy Forum meeting in January 2005 were also requested for examination.

Case papers were also requested to be made available on the day of inspection, regarding any deaths which were reported and investigated in the offices over a 12 month period where:

  • special consideration was required, as defined in Annex 3 in chapter 12 of the Book of Regulations (racial and cultural awareness)
  • the ethnicity of the deceased was in some way related to the cause of death (e.g. 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) was sent to the office in advance of the inspection and returns were analysed to allow exploration of any issues raised in the returns, on the day of the inspection.

The composition of staff in post (numbers, grade and ethnicity) in the office was considered prior to the inspection visit. Similarly considered was the proportion of staff that had 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 racist 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 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. 3 monthly reports from the Areas are considered at the Legal and Policy Forum.

Table 1 - Racial charges and racial aggravations reported to Ayr fiscal office, 2002-03 and 2003-04

2002-03

2003-04

Section 50A(1) (a) charges

5

2

Section 50A(1) (b) charges

43

24

Section 96 aggravations

25

10

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

  • 5 Section 50A(1) (a) charges were reported
  • 43 Section 50A(1) (b) charges were reported
  • 25 charges with Section 96 aggravations recorded against them were reported

And in FY 2003-04:

  • 2 Section 50A(1) (a) charges were reported
  • 24 Section 50A(a) (b) charges were reported
  • 10 charges with Section 96 aggravations recorded against them were reported

A total of 2 charges (2 case papers) were automatically requested for inspection. These consisted of:

  • 1 charge reported in FY 2003-04 recorded as being marked for issue of a warning letter (note however that the marking for 'warning letter' was made after 23rd June 2004 - the date on which revised guidance was issued to staff regarding issuing of warning letters)
  • 1 charge recorded as marked for 'no proceedings' to be taken against the subject (accused) due to delay by the procurator fiscal, reported in FY 2003-04

There were no charges, as recorded on the database, which appeared to have been dealt with in contravention to race policy.

A sample of 16 Section 50A(1) charges and 1 charge with a Section 96 aggravation recorded against it was drawn, in addition to the 2 charges which were automatically selected. Resulting from the sampling exercise therefore, a total of 16 case papers were subsequently requested for inspection.

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 was conducted at charge level, in some instances, more than one charge from a single case was selected into the sample. This meant that the number of case papers requested was lower than the number of individual charges selected.

A further 15 case papers (each containing at least one charge of interest) that were reported in the statistical return to the Legal & Policy Forum meeting in January 2005 were also requested. An overall total of 31 case papers, therefore, were requested for inspection by the team on the day of the inspection visit.

In respect of the 2 charges that were automatically selected (detailed above), we found that:

  • In respect of the charge reported in FY 2003-04 recorded as being marked for issue of a warning letter, the office supplied a linked set of case papers in which a warning letter was also sent (the linked case was incidentally one of the cases in the LPF return). In the requested case of interest we found what may have been a small deviation from the policy on an unimportant monitoring point. However since the linked case had been properly monitored and the outcomes in both cases complied with policy we concluded that there had been no deviation from the policy overall.
  • In respect of the charge recorded as marked for 'no proceedings' to be taken against the subject (accused) due to delay by the procurator fiscal, the recorded code was correct and delay by the fiscal was indeed the cause of no proceedings being taken.

Of the other 14 cases requested as part of the sampling exercise, 13 cases were made available for inspection on the day of our visit.

In respect of these 13 cases (16 charges), we found that the office complied with Departmental policy on marking in all cases and in respect of conduct of court proceedings in 12 cases (15 charges). In the remaining case, compliance during court proceedings was not a relevant issue as it was correctly marked for no proceedings (the charge was wrongly reported to the fiscal as a Section 50A (1)).

13 of the 15 cases reported in the return to the LPF were made available to us for inspection. We found compliance with Departmental policy on marking in respect of all these cases, and in respect of conduct of court proceedings in 9 of the 13 cases. In the remaining 4 cases, compliance during court proceedings was not a relevant issue - one was the linked case where a warning letter was issued (detailed above), one was an active case and had not yet had appeared at court and the other 2 cases did not proceed to court.

The Ayr office fast tracks race crime cases and this is reported to be proceeding well.

Victim Information and Advice Division (VIA) was only rolled out to the Ayr office on 20th December 2004. Since none of the cases we looked at were reported to the office after that date, referral to VIA was not possible.

Interpreters

When considering if the interpretation and translation needs of witnesses were met, there were no such needs to be addressed in 20 of the 28 cases we audited. In the remaining 8 cases the relevant needs were addressed.

There were no problems reported with interpreters or interpreting services and we were told that the office had very little need for translation.

We found an example of good practice in that interpreters requested for Court in Ayr have badges identifying them as such and that the interpreters have a separate waiting area from witnesses.

Deaths

There were no deaths reported to the Ayr office in the relevant period where either the deceased or the next of kin were from a minority ethnic background.

Employment

Latest data [1] shows that over 99 per cent of the population in the Ayr Sheriff Court District area is from a white background. Other ethnic groups, of which Chinese is the largest at just under 0.2 per cent, account for less than one per cent.

As at 1st January 2005 Ayr had a staff of 26, consisting of:

Legal staff

· 1 member of the Senior Civil Service

· 1 Principal Deputes

· 5 Procurator Fiscal Deputes

· 1 Trainee solicitors

· 2 Precognition Officers

Administrative staff

· 2 Band C manager

· 1 Personal Assistant

· 12 Band B staff

Casual staff

· 1 Band B

There are no members of staff from a minority ethnic background in the Ayr office (as self-reported to Human Resources Division in COPFS via survey). Given that minority ethnic representation in the area is very low, we concluded that it was not untoward to find that of 26 staff members, none were from a minority ethnic background.

As at 19th January 2005, 92 per cent of staff in the Ayr office had attended the Departmental Diversity Awareness Programme.

The Ayr Office has been involved recently in local recruitment. Any ethnicity information gathered via the recruitment process is not analysed at office level, but rather is fed back to Human Resources Division at Crown Office.

The office has the benefit of a secondee on a part time basis from the West of Scotland Racial Equality Council (WSREC).

In the past the office has received cultural awareness training from a Buddhist monk and a former WSREC secondee. It is proposed that the current secondee furthers this and visits to the nearest Mosque and Sikh Gurdwara are planned with criminal justice partners.

Consultation

Efforts made by the Ayr office to engage with the community include:

  • Working with WSREC and the Ayrshire Race Equality Partnership (AREP) to enable contact with local community groups
  • Participation in the Area Businessperson's event in Kilmarnock in November 2004 (out of hours)
  • Involvement in the mini-trials projects with local schools (out of hours)
  • Involvement in schools fairs

Future commitments include:

  • Meetings with councillors, MSPs and community groups to heighten the profile of the Ayr office. These plans await the arrival of the new Area Fiscal
  • A planned Open Day with criminal justice partners at Ayr Sheriff Court in September 2005 (again out of hours)
  • Development of a DVD which the WSREC secondee hopes can be used to highlight the work of the Department and can be sent to local businesses and libraries
  • The updating of the Area Resource Team Action Plan, to include wider diversity issues and other community groups

Conclusions

The Ayr office is to be commended for its compliance with Departmental race policy - no breaches of the policy were found.

Although we found a case that was in breach of general Departmental policy (delay by fiscal resulted in no proceedings being taken in the case), we were encouraged by the fact that we were able to identify such a case, and that the office made the case, as requested, available for inspection. We were also reassured in terms of the usefulness of the National Database as an inspection tool.

The office is also commended for its policy of fast tracking race cases and for working with other criminal justice partners to improve conditions for interpreters working in court.

[1] General Register Office for Scotland 2001 Census of Population