Scottish Justice Committee examines performance of Crown prosecutors in wildlife crime cases

copfs-logoThe Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee is in the middle of an inquiry into the role and purpose of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).

This is a broad inquiry focusing on the core role of the COPFS and examining its effectiveness and efficiency, how well it works with stakeholders and the support it provides to witnesses and victims of crime.

As part of the inquiry, interested organisations were invited to submit written evidence. A full list of these submissions can be found here and we were pleased to see submissions from Scottish Badgers, RSPB Scotland and Scottish Environment LINK, all discussing their concerns about how wildlife crimes are handled. These three submissions can be read here:




All are well worth a read. The evidence from Scottish Badgers is particularly shocking. Here’s an example:

Our recent analyses of evidence averages 60 reports of badger incidents per quarter – of which 40 are confirmed badger crimes. This is in stark contrast to the 7 badger crimes recorded in police statistics in the year 2013/14, none of which were brought to prosecution‘.

Once again this calls in to question the veracity of the Scottish Government’s annual Wildlife Crime Report, which we’ve already criticised for its exclusion of a number of confirmed raptor persecution crimes (see here). The disparity between the annual crime figures recorded by Scottish Badgers and those recorded by Police Scotland is enormous, and again undermines any confidence that is to be had from the Government’s annual Wildlife Crime Report.

Natural Injustice 1 Feb 2015 cover - CopyAll three submissions to the Justice Committee share a common theme – there is repeated criticism of the chronic lack of communication and engagement from the Crown Office with organisations that have played key roles in wildlife crime investigations. This topic was further discussed during an oral evidence session to the Justice Committee on 29 November 2016. Ian Thomson (Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland) was invited to speak to the Committee on behalf of Scottish Environment LINK. The video of this evidence session can be viewed here (starts at 11.15 mins) and the transcript of the evidence session can be read here (starts at page 6).

During this oral session, Ian talked at length about the Crown Office’s refusal to communicate, and the subsequent frustration and missed opportunities to learn that this silence engenders. Some members of the Justice Committee seemed pretty shocked by this, and the irony wasn’t lost on them when they were told the (former) Lord Advocate had steadfastly refused to meet with LINK members to discuss a 2015 report (‘Natural Injustice‘) that had flagged up the same communication failures.

Complaints about a lack of communication from the COPFS isn’t just limited to those groups involved with the investigation of wildlife crime. A number of other submissions from completely different sectors, including those involved with rape victims, restorative justice, victim support, and even the covener of a car rally, had also all raised the same point.

Let’s hope that the Justice Committee’s inquiry results in some recommendations to improve this on-going problem, and let’s also hope that the recommendation, if it comes, is not ignored like it was when it was previously made (in relation to the investigation of wildlife crime) in 2008 (see here).


9 Responses to “Scottish Justice Committee examines performance of Crown prosecutors in wildlife crime cases”

  1. 1 crypticmirror
    December 14, 2016 at 2:55 pm

    The old boy, patronage-and-favours, network in the prosecution services is being slowly dismantled. A little too slowly for my tastes, but as much as they try to resist, it is still happening. Good.

  2. 2 Alex Milne
    December 14, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    This is strong stuff. I wonder if, when the next report from Link is produced, if the Crown office will be any more receptive.
    The evidence from Scottish Badgers is particularly informative, 160 confirmed badger crimes reported per annum, 7 recorded. Incredible.

  3. December 14, 2016 at 3:17 pm

    What should be remembered is that those working the prosecution frontline of our criminal justice system – Fiscals and Judges – all start out as defence solicitors moving up to become Advocates/Judges. Its the whole system that needs looked at, not just the prosecution end.

    • 4 Winston Roberts
      December 14, 2016 at 4:08 pm

      With respect, that is incorrect. Procurator Fiscals and judges do not all start as defence solicitors. Procurator Fiscals can train with COPFS and become employed as a depute without ever being a defence solicitor (and that is quite common). It is possible that defence solicitors can change career to work for COPFS but I don’t think any inference can be drawn from this.

      • December 14, 2016 at 4:16 pm

        Winston, I stand corrected…I am aware of moves across the defence prosecution divide – Defence Advocates to Crown Advocate for instance…and Im in no way criticising that..Im just pointing out that behind the scenes its worth looking at the whole system to explain present failures. “Pressure” on the Crown officials comes from defence solicitors/QCs and from Sheriffs/Judges….

  4. 6 sidney Burnett
    December 14, 2016 at 3:38 pm

    Everything thrives in Scotland all the raptors etc etc except on grouse moors.

  5. 7 I C T
    December 14, 2016 at 5:55 pm

    sidney , how do I know you are not related to burt…..

  6. 8 Muriel green
    December 15, 2016 at 9:47 am

    The Scottish criminal justice system is in crisis.

    As a result many areas of crime are suffering.
    Many wildlife cases are simply not proceeded with. This is very frustrating for reporting agencies and sends out the wrong message to offenders.

    There needs to be a bright light shone on the wildlife prosecutors in Scotland who are clearly not performing or worse deliberately burying cases and ensuring they do not proceed to court.

    Failure to communicate is an ongoing practice and strategy by copfs in wildlife cases.

    This environment suits some within the police who get away with failing to investigate and report cases for prosecution.

    Whilst some claim that there have been advances the lack of cases reaching court shows otherwise.

    Same mistakes over and over…….a very dire and depressing situation all round.

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