Strengthening the practice of disclosure
Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) is responsible for the prosecution of crime in Scotland, the investigation of sudden or suspicious deaths, and the investigation of complaints against the police.
COPFS works closely with criminal justice partners to help make Scotland a safer place. Disclosure is an absolutely crucial part of the criminal justice system in Scotland. Disclosure must be timely and effective to ensure justice, and to prevent unnecessary trials and delays. The Crown is obliged to disclose all material information for or against the accused (subject to any public interest considerations).
What COPFS needed
COPFS processes approximately 350,000 cases every year. As a result, they generate significant quantities of evidential material in discharging their duty of disclosure to multiple defense agents. Information is normally provided in hard copy and couriered to the agents. There are inherent loopholes—uncertain delivery and maintaining records of information coming in at high volumes. In addition, these paper-based processes were inefficient and time consuming for defense agents and Crown Office staff.
COPFS wanted their disclosure practice to evolve in a way that would address the Government’s ICT agenda of Digital Inclusion. In 2007, they reached a definite mandate to improve the disclosure practice for electronic evidence. They wanted to establish a simple, secure, efficient, flexible and more direct disclosure path for electronic evidence that was supported by a robust audit trail.
In 2008, we began working with COPFS on the Secure Disclosure of evidence System (SDS). We consulted with a variety of COPFS people (including senior management, area fiscal office representatives, IT operations and policy and legal experts). They helped specify, design, implement and fine-tune a workable solution that would support secure electronic disclosure.
A success story
The benefits were immediate. There was faster access to disclosure material and reduced costs of paper-handling. This reassured COPFS who agreed on a full rollout of the system from December 2010 at a rate of 30 agents per month. The system has now been rolled out to almost all of the qualifying solicitors in Scotland; there are currently 850 registered users.
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