Kilmarnock office report

OFFICE INSPECTION - KILMARNOCK

5 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 Kilmarnock. The Kilmarnock 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 guidelines, were specifically 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 Kilmarnock fiscal office, 2002-03 and 2003-04

2002-03

2003-04

Section 50A(1) (a) charges

6

17

Section 50A(1) (b) charges

51

84

Section 96 aggravations

17

34

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

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

And in FY 2003-04:

  • 17 Section 50A(1) (a) charges were reported
  • 84 Section 50A(1) (b) charges were reported
  • 34 charges with Section 96 aggravations recorded against them were reported

A total of 8 charges (8 case papers) were automatically requested for inspection. These were:

  • 8 charges recorded as being marked for 'no proceedings' (the coding system employed by the National Database does not allow for recording of reason for a marking of 'no proceedings' at charge level), reported in FY 2003-04

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

A sample of 27 Section 50A(1) charges and 8 charges with Section 96 aggravations recorded against them was drawn, in addition to the 8 charges which were automatically selected. Resulting from the sampling exercise therefore, a total of 39 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.

The cases that had been recorded in the statistical return to the Legal & Policy Forum meeting in January 2005 were also requested. However the office was unable to identify these cases in time for our inspection visit, and hence these case papers were not audited.

In respect of the 8 charges (8 separate cases) that were automatically selected as detailed above, we found that:

  • The office complied with Departmental policy on marking in all 8 cases and in respect of conduct of court proceedings in 5 cases. In the remaining 3 cases, compliance during court proceedings was not a relevant issue as the charges were correctly marked for no proceedings

In respect of the remaining 31 cases (35 charges) that we had requested, we found that the office complied with Departmental policy on marking in all cases, and with conduct of court proceedings in 26 cases (30 charges). Of the other 5 cases, compliance during court proceedings was not a relevant issue in 3 cases (in 2 cases no proceedings were taken due to insufficient evidence and the other case did not proceed to court as the accused died). In the remaining 2 cases, only copies of the cases were available and hence compliance during court proceedings could not be ascertained due to lack of information.

We found that 29 out of 39 cases were correctly referred to Victim Information and Advice Division (VIA). In a further 5 cases it had not been appropriate to refer the complainer to VIA (as no proceedings were taken), while in the remaining 5 cases it could not be ascertained if a referral had been made (in 3 of these 5, only a copy of the cases was available hence the required information was not available.)

Interpreters

When considering if the interpretation and translation needs of witnesses were met, there were no such needs in 29 out of the 39 cases we audited. In the remaining 10 cases, attempts had been made to meet the interpretation and language needs of victims and witnesses in 6 cases and in the remaining 4 cases it could not be ascertained from the information available.

We spoke to the staff who are directly involved with the requesting of interpreters. We learned, as our examination of the case papers would confirm, that there is no great need for the services of interpreters in the Kilmarnock office. No problems were reported.

A member of the Area Resource Team complimented Crown Office on the guidance issued for the requesting of interpreters.

There is little need for translation but in the cases where it is required, this also works well.

We were told that the protocol with the Sheriff Clerk on requesting interpreters for accused persons also works well.

In Kilmarnock a system is being initiated at Court whereby interpreters will be in a room separate from witnesses and will wear a badge identifying them as interpreters. As a result of information gathered via research carried out in the course of our race thematic, we understand that interpreters will welcome these practices.

The Kilmarnock office recommend that translated leaflets should be produced at national level for witnesses who require interpreting services in order to inform them as to what to expect when giving evidence through an interpreter in court.

Deaths

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

Employment

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

As at 1st January 2005, Kilmarnock had a staff of 44, consisting of:

Legal staff

· 1 member of the Senior Civil Service

· 1 District Fiscal

· 1 Senior Depute

· 1 Principal Deputes

· 8 Procurator Fiscal Deputes

· 6 Precognition Officers

Administrative staff

· 1 Band E manager

· 1 Band D manager

· 1 Band C manager

· 2 Personal Assistants

· 18 Band B staff

Casual staff

· 3 Band B staff

Small numbers (less than 5) prevent disclosure of the exact number of staff who are from a minority ethnic background (as self-reported to Human Resources Division in COPFS via survey) in the Kilmarnock office. However, we concluded that minority ethnic representation in the office was in line with minority ethnic representation in the local population.

As at 19th January 2005, 96 per cent of staff in the Kilmarnock office had attended the Departmental Diversity Awareness Programme.

In terms of local recruitment, when a vacancy arises, office practice includes sending the advertisement for the vacancy to a number of minority ethnic groups. Details of these groups were supplied to the office by a previous secondee from the West of Scotland Racial Equality Council (WSREC). The input to the office from WSREC continues.

Four members of staff are on the Area Resource Team. One member of staff has completed the Introduction to Professional Practice course at the University of Paisley course and has been in talks with presenters of the course regarding the possibility of rolling out the course to the local Craigie Campus and of condensing the course to meet the needs of COPFS staff.

At the last 3 office training events there has been input on racial and cultural issues.

Consultation

Kilmarnock has made significant efforts to reach into the community which include:

  • Involvement with criminal justice partners in an Open Day at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court in May 2004 - an analysis of evaluation forms provided to us contained positive remarks about the Department
  • Involvement in an event with criminal justice partners in November 2004, for local business people. This appears to have involved considerable planning and effort by the members of staff involved from the office, who gave of their own time to be involved
  • Attendance at recruitment fairs
  • Involvement in a local mini-trials project
  • Involvement in a work experience scheme for school pupils
  • Representation of the office by the Area Fiscal on the local Multi-Agency Racist Incident Monitoring (MARIM) Group
  • Membership of the Area Fiscal in the Ayrshire Race Equality Partnership (AREP) and the office's inclusion in an AREP exercise to gather information from the local minority ethnic community on a whole range of issues

Plans for the coming year include the targeting of small community groups to offer input on information about the Department, participation in an Open Day in Ayr and visits with criminal justice partners to minority places of worship.

Miscellaneous Issues

Effective partnership working with the Police is essential for the efficient handling of all cases, including those with a racial element. The Fiscal's decision is based on the information they receive and is only as good as the quality of that information. The importance of working together cannot be over-emphasised. The statistics produced for the Legal and Policy forum are used to highlight any underlying trends that exist or are developing and these are discussed with the Police including the Divisional Commander at regular liaison meetings.

The District Fiscal has additionally spoken to the sub-divisional officers about relevant issues and copied the policy to them.

Discussions with the Police are further facilitated by the development by the Area Business Manager of a spreadsheet, which records types of offences reported, age and gender profiles and ethnicity of complainers and offenders, whether complainers are repeat victims and further identifies "hot spot" loci in order to target strategies to best reach the community and highlight possible underreporting.

From the spreadsheets produced we found evidence of close control of race cases, which should assist in the maintenance of a high standard of monitoring of Police and Fiscal compliance.

Conclusions

The Kilmarnock office is to be commended for reaching a high standard of service in terms of compliance with Departmental race policy - no breaches of the policy were found.

Partnership working is very much on the agenda at all levels. This is not only best practice but also contributes to the Office meeting the need for consultation laid down in the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 without subjecting the small numbers of people involved in the District to excessive consultation by a number of public bodies, which could result in consultation fatigue.

There is a high level of compliance by legal staff in complying with Departmental policy on dealing with cases in court and with referrals to VIA for additional information and support. An impressive number of cases involved the "rolling up" of outstanding matters for accused persons, which is in line with best practice despite the fact that it does complicate matters for the person marking the case.

Real commitment has been demonstrated in terms of consultation with the community. A considerable amount of outreach work is being done and is being found to bear results.

An innovation in practice, which impressed the team, was the treatment of interpreters who will now remain separate from witnesses and wear a badge identifying them as such.

The proactive monitoring carried out by the office regarding the profile of offences, offenders and complainers is particularly commendable.

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