Procurators fiscal are provided with appropriate training, development opportunities and guidance material to enable them to carry out their varied duties. That includes specific guidance and training on environmental crime.
A national network of prosecutors who specialise in environmental cases has been in place since 2004. They work closely with professionals from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the police and other specialist agencies, and provide advice to prosecution colleagues as appropriate.
I recognise that the Executive has undertaken some work on the area, but its figures show that since 1999 there has been very little change in the number of prosecutions brought by SEPA that have led to conviction.
The report of the Scottish Labour Party's policy forum states:
"We will close some remaining loopholes in the prosecution of wildlife crime."
What loopholes remain in that area? Is it not just as important to give resources both to fiscals and to the enforcement agencies to allow them to carry out their existing work more rigorously?
The member might be aware that in November of last year, the Executive issued to a wide range of organisations the consultation document, "Strengthening and Streamlining: The Way Forward for the Enforcement of Environmental Law in Scotland", which seeks to provide an overview of the key issues relating to the enforcement of environmental law in Scotland, to consider the action that ought to be taken to strengthen the enforcement of such law in Scotland and to invite views on those matters. The closing date for responses was 22 February, although extensions have been granted until the end of this week. More than 40 responses have been received, so there is the prospect of a consensus being reached on how to improve the detection and prosecution process. The sharing of knowledge, together with the development of a risk management-based approach to enforcement, has and will provide the desired improvement.
In addition, I can inform the member that in the four years to March 2006, 82 per cent of all charges reported by SEPA resulted in prosecution. That compares favourably with a general prosecution rate of 60 per cent for all offences across the board, although one explanation for that is that non-court disposals are more common for run-of-the-mill offences.