Prosecution System

– in the Scottish Parliament on 17th June 2021.

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Photo of Elena Whitham Elena Whitham Scottish National Party

2. To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that the prosecution system delivers fairer and more effective justice. (S6O-00042)

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

Scotland’s prosecution system is, of course, a matter for the Lord Advocate. The Lord Advocate is head of the systems for the prosecution of crime in Scotland and exercises those functions independently of any other person.

The Scottish Government has committed an additional £50 million in this year’s budget to support recovery across the justice system, including increased funding to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, which reflects our strong support for the vital services that are delivered through those offices. That is in addition to the increased funding that has been provided to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in recent years through the annual budget process.

Photo of Elena Whitham Elena Whitham Scottish National Party

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer and for the previous commitment to consult on the not proven verdict. There is growing recognition across the chamber that there is a strong case for abolition of that verdict. Will the cabinet secretary encourage a wide range of stakeholders and those with lived experience to respond to the consultation when it is launched later in the current session of Parliament in order to inform the best policy decisions on the matter?

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

I acknowledge the member’s experience in the area. She will be aware that a broad range of stakeholders, including those with direct experience of the system, played a very important role in last year’s engagement events on the findings of the independent jury research that was commissioned to consider the unique nature of the Scottish jury system.

That included survivors with direct experience of the not proven verdict, and some of them gave powerful testimony on the lack of clarity about its meaning and implications. They also testified that they were unaware of or unprepared for the possibility that a not proven verdict might be returned in their case.

I am happy to confirm to the member that we will continue to take an open and consultative approach. As part of the formal public consultation, we will seek to capture the views of a broad range of stakeholders including legal professionals, the third sector and, as the member suggests, those with lived experience of the system.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

I thank Elena Whitham for raising this important issue, which we will pursue in the new session of Parliament.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that less than 1 per cent of victims apply to the victims’ right to review scheme when the Crown decides not to prosecute or to discontinue prosecution.

The Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland recommends that all victims be notified of such a decision. Is the cabinet secretary confident that all victims are being contacted in such cases? If they are, why are so few of them taking advantage of their right to review?

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

As we go through the questions, we will cover in more depth some of the victims’ issues that the member quite rightly raises. If he is aware that parts of the system do not ensure that a statement is sought, I will be happy to look at the information that he provides.

It is possible that we should look in more depth at why it would be the case that more people do not request that. Obviously, a different authority is involved and we have to respect that, but I am happy to look at the issue, find more information about it and share that with the member.