The 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.
All 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).