Inadequate resourcing and budget cuts are placing Scotland’s justice system at risk, MSPs were told today.
In a submission by the Procurators Fiscal Society (PFS) to Holyrood’s justice committee union bosses said current resources are “insufficient” for the increase in the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service’s workload.
The organisation has warned that while there will be around 1,500 Sheriff and Jury trials over the course of the financial year – 4,600 “resource intensive” indictments have already been served this year to date.
According to the PFS, each indictment has to be “prepared as if it were proceeding to trial”, hugely increasing the work of legal staff.
In Scotland’s High Courts, almost 40 per cent of cases were indicted less than four weeks before the official deadline, well below the target of 80 per cent.
And the PFS indicated that the vast majority of High Court cases are indicted right up to the wire, either the day before or on the deadline itself.
Initiatives and legislative developments involving domestic abuse, stalking and housebreaking cases have also “significantly increased the workload and consequent pressures” on staff.
The submission concludes that the COPFS has been set an “unrealistic task” as it attempts to work within existing resources, that the welfare of staff is in “jeopardy” and staff morale “may deteriorate further.”
Last year justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell warned that resource pressures on the COPFS would negatively impact access to justice and urged the Scottish Government to reassess its budget for the year ahead.
Scottish Conservative justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell MSP said:
“This is another extremely significant warning, and one which will cause alarm to the public.
“The justice system is already struggling to cope and that situation is only going to get worse.
“The Scottish Government has yet to reveal their budget but this submission serves as a strong warning that the justice system needs proper resourcing.
“Things can’t go on as they are because the system is denying people access to justice and causing huge inconvenience and hurt to victims and witnesses.
“It’s time the cabinet secretary for justice and SNP to step up to the mark, listen and take action.”