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Daily Record
Daily Record
John Ferguson

Crown Office in red alert funding crisis that could see victims failed and criminals walk free

A bombshell report uncovered by the Sunday Mail reveals the Crown Office has been plunged into crisis after the ­Scottish Government failed to hand over enough funding.

Minutes from an executive board ­meeting state that financial pressures have left the organisation facing a “red
level 16 ­current risk score” of having ­“Insufficient resource to meet statutory and policy ­obligations”.

Opposition politicians have reacted ­furiously to our revelations and demanded urgent action from the government and SNP Justice Secretary Angela Constance to protect the criminal justice system from meltdown.

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) report sets out a catalogue of shocking potential problems that could result from the funding crisis, ­including:

●A rise in errors and failed cases because ­suspected ­criminals are not ­prosecuted on time.

●Victims, witnesses and next of kin waiting longer for cases to end meaning required ­standards are not met.

● The risk of the Crown Office being sued because cases have been mishandled.

●An inability to hire and keep staff.

●The Crown Office becoming unable to stick to data protection laws.

●Widening inequality of access to justice for the public.

●IT systems at risk of cyber attacks.

●Covid backlogs not being cleared.

Taxpayers have been hit by a ­£40million compensation bill which has been paid to ex-Rangers directors over botched ­prosecution attempts.

The figure was 40 times higher than ­England’s entire annual bill to settle ­similar cases.

The COPFS report makes clear the ­government’s failure to provide adequate funding is behind the cash crisis it faces.

It states: “The budget for 2023-24 was announced on December 15.

“COPFS received an increase of ­£13million on Resource budget and £3million increase on capital funding.

“While the increased funding is most welcome, Scottish Government were unable to support the full amount required for 2023-24. COPFS will need to deliver improved outcomes with less.”

The corporate risk section added: “The Risk Management Group noted the remaining funding pressures…The risk score remains ‘red’ to reflect budget pressures for 2023/24.”

Overall Crown Office budgets increased from £180.9million in 2022/23 to ­£196.6million for 2023/24.

Tory shadow ­community safety ­minister ­Russell ­Findlay said: “This ­heavily redacted ­document paints a bleak and ­worrying picture for crime victims.

“These stark COPFS warnings come despite its increased budget and being bailed out with more than £50million from taxpayers for the Rangers malicious prosecution scandal.

“The Lord Advocate must explain, as a matter of urgency, why its finances are so dire and exactly how this might impact Scottish justice.

“It is vital for the SNP Justice Secretary to then explain what her government is doing to avert these scenarios from ­happening.”

Scottish Lib Dem justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP added: “There are immense pressures facing Crown Office.

“This report spells out how that adversely impacts on cases, victims and access to justice as a whole.

“For many years, the SNP and Greens have been happy to slash justice budgets, threatening to hamstring investigations and prosecutions.

“The Scottish Government must now properly invest in our justice system so that we can bring down court backlogs, cut crime and boost public confidence.”

While the amount available has increased, the report outlines how a ­catalogue of cost increases and workload pressures have left them without the resources they wanted.

Staffing costs, bills to maintain offices, utilities and all other outgoings have increased dramatically as a result of ­rocketing inflation.

Ongoing issues with processing post mortems and toxicology investigations on time were highlighted as well as Fatal Accident Inquiry delays.

These can have a huge impact on bereaved families waiting to find out what has happened to their loved ones.

Increased workloads are believed to be leading to staff sickness, with stress and mental health issues resulting in ­thousands of working days being lost.

On average 11 sick days were taken by each employee in 2022 compared with 9.7 in 2021.

In total there were 24,766 days lost to sickness in 2022, ­compared to 18,941 in 2021 – up by 5825 days.

The report ­highlighted “very high” levels of sickness absences in the Scottish Fatalities Investigation Unit in particular.

It states: “SFIU is ­continuing to ­experience very high levels of sickness absences particularly among legal staff.

“There are currently a total of four ­procurator fiscal deputes on long-term sick leave.

“The unit also has another three ­members of legal staff on restricted duties as a result of occupational health or ­vicarious trauma assessments.”

A ­spokesman for COPFS said: “The risk­ ­register is a planning tool which sets out potential risks and what could happen if they are not managed properly.

“It then sets out what is being done to prevent that. It does not reflect the current status of our ­people and work or
mean they are currently ­significant problems.”

In relation to staff absences the spokesman added: “COPFS values its employees very highly and their welfare is of great importance to the organisation.

“Through an employee wellbeing ­strategy and action plan we seek to ensure staff are appropriately supported. We will continue to work with our trade unions and staff groups to put measures in place to address any underlying causes which are identified.”

A Scottish ­Government spokesman insisted extra funding was being provided.

He said: “We have a strong track record of investment in the Crown Office with its budget now over 50per cent higher than at the start of the last Parliament.

“Our 2023/24 budget continues our significant resource funding for COPFS demonstrating that we ­continue to prioritise these ­services where ­possible.”

He added: “Separate from the COPFS budget, the Budget also ­provides more than £42million of ­justice recovery funding to ­continue addressing the backlog of cases in the courts, which has already reduced substantially.”

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