Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service

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Crown Office and
Procurator Fiscal Service
(Scottish Gaelic: Oifis an Ard-Ghnìomhachas agus Seirbheis Neach-casaid an Ard-Ghnìomhachas)
( Scots: Croun Office an Procurator Fiscal Service)
Non-ministerial government department overview
Jurisdiction Scotland
Minister responsible
Parent Non-ministerial government department Scottish Government
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The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (Scottish Gaelic: Oifis an Ard-Ghnìomhachas agus Seirbheis Neach-casaid an Ard-Ghnìomhachas, Scots: Croun Office an Procurator Fiscal Service) is the independent public prosecution service for Scotland, and is a Ministerial Department of the Scottish Government. The department is headed by Her Majesty's Lord Advocate, who under the Scottish legal system is responsible for prosecution, along with the area Procurators fiscal. In Scotland, virtually all prosecution of criminal offences is undertaken by the Crown. Private prosecutions are extremely rare.

The Service's responsibilities extend to the whole of Scotland, and include:

The Lord Advocate is assisted by the Solicitor General for Scotland, both Law Officers. The day-to-day running of the Service is done by the Crown Agent & Chief Executive and a management board who are based in the department's headquarters in Chambers Street, Edinburgh.

The Service employs both civil servants who carry out administrative and other duties and solicitors and advocates who represent the Crown in Court.


The history of the Lord Advocate, and the resulting department of the Crown Office, is somewhat obscure. There are references on record to a king's procurator-fiscal in 1434 and 1457, and a queen's advocate in 1462. An office of king's advocate dates from 1478 but between 1478 and 1494 there are references to "advocates" (unnamed) and it is only from 1494 that one can be sure that there was a single king's advocate as the normal representative of the king in treason trials and in civil litigation. The office thus dates back to Medieval times, with the earliest Lord Advocate being John Ross of Montgrenan whom the King appointed as his commissioner at a hearing in Stirling in 1476, then as procurator for another case in Edinburgh in the following year.[1]

The history of the procurator fiscal is similarly difficult to set down with exactness, though the role has developed significantly over time. The first document reference appears in the Records of the Parliament of Scotland for 22 August 1584, naming several procurators fiscal in Edinburgh. The fiscal was an officer appointed by, and accountable to, the Sheriff, who by the 18th Century was responsible for most prosecutions in local areas. By the nineteenth century advocates depute were first appointed, to assist him in conducting cases in the High Court of Justiciary and the Crown Office was first established. This became the centre of the prosecution system, and it was to the Lord Advocate now to whom the procurators fiscal were responsible, evidenced by the "Book of Regulations" issued by him to procurators fiscal providing instructions about how to conduct their business.[2] The Book of Regulations is still used today in providing the framework for local prosecution in Scotland.[3]


The Lord Advocate and Solicitor General for Scotland

Main article: Lord Advocate

As well as departmental management responsibility, the Lord Advocate is directly responsible for prosecuting the most serious crimes, in the High Court of Justiciary at first instance and the Court of Criminal Appeal. Unless the cases are of especial importance, such as the Lockerbie trial held at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, the prosecutions are normally (but not always) led by Advocates Depute who are known collectively as Crown Counsel and are experienced members of the Faculty of Advocates normally appointed for a limited period of three years. Their decision to prosecute in this way is taken in the light of the Procurator Fiscal's recommendations and a report prepared by the police, and any such reports are subject to the direction of the Lord Advocate.[4] This prosecutorial role can not be removed from her by the Scottish Parliament.

The Lord Advocate is the senior of the two Scottish Law Officers, and is the chief legal adviser to the Scottish Government as well as representing its ministers in civil proceedings.[5] He is also responsible under the Scotland Act 1998 for ensuring that each Act of the Scottish Parliament is within the competence of that Parliament. Additionally, the Lord Advocate, along with the Solicitor General for Scotland are ex-officio entitled to participate (but not vote) in proceedings of the Scottish Parliament to the extent permitted by standing orders.[6] The Solicitor General can act as the deputy for the Lord Advocate.

The Lord Advocate and Solicitor General are one of the Great Officers of State in Scotland, and the Lord Advocate is one of the Scottish Ministers, though since 23 May 2007 the Lord Advocate has not attended the cabinet of the Scottish Government. The position of Lord Advocate has been the subject of controversy, most notably sparked by Scottish High Court judges, wanting the ministerial and prosecutorial role to be separated.[7]

Crown Agent, Queen's and Lord Treasurer's Remembrancer and Chief Executive

The Crown Agent is the principal legal adviser to the Lord Advocate on prosecution matters. He also acts as Chief Executive for the Department. He acts as solicitor in all legal proceedings in which the Lord Advocate appears as representing his or her own department. He issues general instructions from and on behalf of the Lord Advocate for the guidance of Crown counsel, procurators fiscal, sheriff clerks and other public officials, transmits instructions from Crown counsel to procurators fiscal about prosecutions, and, subject to the direction of the Principal Clerk of Justiciary, arranges sittings of the High Court of Justiciary. At trials in the High Court in Edinburgh, he attends as instructing solicitor.

The Crown Agent also holds the office of Queen's and Lord Treasurer's Remembrancer, and all property that falls to the Crown as a result of bona vacantia in Scotland is his responsibility, as is treasure trove. The post of QLTR was created in 1837 by the amalgamation of two existing posts created in 1707 – the King's/Queen's Remembrancer and the Lord Treasurer's Remembrancer, and has been held since 1981 by the holder of the office of Crown Agent.[8]

Advocates depute

At the High Court of Justiciary prosecutions are brought by the Crown Office, who are represented in Court by Advocates Depute. Advocates-Depute are either advocates or solicitor-advocates to whom rights of audience in the High Court have been given by that Court.

Procurators fiscal

Main article: Procurator Fiscal

For the majority of crimes in Scotland a procurator fiscal or fiscal depute presents the case for the prosecution in the Sheriff Court and Justice of the Peace Courts, and the case for the defence is presented either by the accused's own solicitor or by one from the Public Defence Solicitors' Office, a part of the Scottish Legal Aid Board.

Procurators fiscal make preliminary investigations into criminal cases, take written statements from witnesses (known as precognition) and are responsible for the investigation and prosecution of crime. This includes the power to direct the police in their investigation, but except for serious crimes such as murder the police normally complete their enquiries before involving the procurator fiscal.[9][10][11] Once someone has been charged with an offence and remanded in custody, the Crown must bring the case to trial within 110 days or the accused will be admitted to bail. Otherwise, in serious cases (known as solemn procedure with a jury as opposed to summary procedure without) the trial must commence within 12 months of the date of first appearance in court.[12]

Procurators fiscal work in the local sheriffdom and most of the Fiscal offices in Scotland are either in or near the Sheriff Court. The Procurator Fiscal is also responsible for the investigation of all sudden, suspicious and unexplained deaths in Scotland. This includes the decision to call a Fatal Accident Inquiry. He or she is also responsible for the independent investigation of criminal police complaints made in that sherrifdom (administrative complaints are handled by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC)).

Prosecution of crimes

The law in Scotland does not say that a crime must be prosecuted and the Crown prosecutors have considerable discretion over what action to take. They can choose the level at which to prosecute (either through solemn or summary procedure) with the accused having no right to choose a jury trial or for a victim to decide whether or not to press charges, as the decision on whether to try and by which method belongs to the prosecutor as "Master of the Instance".[13][14][15] Until 1987, however, their discretion only extended to the degree to which they should prosecute, if at all; there were no alternatives to prosecution. The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1987 gave procurators fiscal the power to offer fixed penalties instead of prosecution (a fiscal fine), at the time limited to a maximum of £25 and subsequently increased to £300.[16][17][18]

Since then these options have expanded to giving a warning, fiscal fines, compensation orders, work orders, road traffic fixed penalties or diversion from prosecution into social work, psychological counselling or psychiatric treatment.[19]

COPFS Federations

COPFS is organised into three geographic Federations led by Procurators Fiscal for the North, East and West of Scotland. Within the federations, there is a network of 48 Procurator Fiscal offices, one for each Sheriff Court district.[20]

Victim Information and Advice Service

Victim Information and Advice Service (VIA) is a dedicated and specialised victim information and advice service within the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. VIA was created to provide information to victims, bereaved next of kin and keeping them informed about the progress of a case. It also has a duty to advise on and facilitate referral to other agencies for specialist support and counselling as required.[21] VIA works closely with other statutory agencies, such as the Police and the Courts and with voluntary organisations, such as Court Witness Service, Women's Aid and Victim Support, and is a unique service in the Scottish criminal justice system.

See also


  1. History of the Office of the Lord Advocate
  2. Historical development of the Office of Procurator Fiscal
  3. Book of Regulations
  4. Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 (c.46)
  5. The role and functions of the Lord Advocate
  6. Scotland Act 1998, section 27.
  7. Judges call for Lord Advocate to be stripped of powers, Sunday Herald, 1 November 2008
  8. QLTR Overview | Queen's and Lord Treasurer's Remembrancer
  9. "When a crime is committed it is the responsibility of the Procurator Fiscal to investigate it." Lord Justice Clerk Thomson Smith "The investigation of complaints against the police in Scotland: A Fair Cop?". Scottish Government. Retrieved 11 August 2009.
  11. Procurator Fiscal – "Powers".
  12. Four men jailed for drugs operation
  13. "Summary Justice Reform Thematic Report on the Use of Fiscal Fine" (PDF). Scottish Government. p. 7. Retrieved 10 August 2009. Although Scotland did not have the principle of 'legality' as in some foreign jurisdictions where the prosecutor has no discretion...
  14. "Procurator Fiscal Powers". David Hingston LLB. Retrieved 12 August 2009. We do not have the English system of someone deciding whether or not to press charges, nor of Magistrates [or in America, Grand Juries] deciding whether or not someone should be committed for trial, nor of the accused opting for trial by jury. In Scotland, these are decisions for the Procurator Fiscal to make. External link in |publisher= (help)
  15. p. 46 Jones, Timothy H.; Christie, Michael G.A. (2008). Criminal Law. Edinburgh: W.Green. ISBN 978-0-414-01683-5.
  16. "Where a procurator fiscal receives a report that a relevant offence has been committed he may send to the alleged offender a notice under this section (referred to in this section as a conditional offer)"The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1987 s.56" (PDF). Office of Public Sector Information. Retrieved 11 August 2009.
  17. "Conditional offer of fixed penalty by procurator fiscal" "The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1987 Fixed Penalty Order 1987". Office of Public Sector Information. Retrieved 11 August 2009.
  18. "Penalties as alternative to prosecution" "Criminal Proceedings etc. (Reform) (Scotland) Act 2007". Office of Public Sector Information. Retrieved 11 August 2009.
  19. Alternatives to prosecution: "Victimes of crime in Scotland". Scottish Government. Retrieved 10 August 2009.

External links

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