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Call for fiscals to be elected – Courier

Courier, 9.10.08
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\r\nScotland’s senior prosecutors should be elected to office on similar lines to American district attorneys, according to a report published today.
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\r\nElecting the country’s 11 area procurators fiscal would create “a far clearer and transparent” system of justice, it says.
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\r\nIt also calls for prison sentences for less than three months to be scrapped and for Scotland’s police forces to be reorganised to fit local authority boundaries.
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\r\nThis would not mean 32 police forces based on the present structure but a network of local forces with centralised bodies like the Scottish Crimes and Drug Enforcement Agency dealing with serious crime.
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\r\nThe radical recommendations come in a report on criminal justice by the right-of-centre think tank Reform Scotland.
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\r\nArguing for sentences of less than three months to be scrapped, it says that sentences of under 90 days are ineffective and expensive, offer no opportunity for rehabilitation, and often push offenders towards a career in crime.
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\r\nLast year, more than 2100 people were jailed for a period of less than five weeks, says the report.
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\r\nThe research paper offers a range of radical solutions to improve criminal justice, like publishing local crime statistics and publishing figures that show the number of crimes and offences prosecuted, instead of the number of individuals prosecuted.
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\r\nBut the call for elected fiscals is the most radical of all.
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\r\n“Procurators fiscal can make crucial decisions about whether, where and how crimes are prosecuted in Scotland, yet, as with the police, there is little transparency or accountability to the public within the system, “says the report.
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\r\n“We recommend that each of the area procurators fiscal who head up the 11 offices in Scotland should be directly elected from the area they represent.

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“We would not envisage these elections being party political and would expect the elections to be between legal professionals, fought on the policies and attitudes the individual would adopt in office.
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\r\n“We recognise that such a move would have an impact on the role of the Lord Advocate which would need to be examined more fully in conjunction with eth legal profession.”
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\r\nThe think tank was founded by Ben Thomson, chairman of investment group the Nobel Group in Edinburgh.
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\r\nIt describes itself as an independent, non-party body seeking ways to economic prosperity and better public services “based on the traditional Scottish principles of limited government, diversity and personal responsibility.”
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\r\nThe report says elections would allow fiscals to respond to regional needs.
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\r\n“For example, the area procurator fiscal in Glasgow may have been elected on a platform to prosecute all drug crimes as solemn cases before a sheriff and jury, where higher sentences can be imposed, in an attempt to act as a greater deterrent.
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\r\n“However in the Highlands and Islands an area procurator fiscal may have been elected to take a stance against wildlife crimes.”
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\r\nThe report has been attacked by Labour. “The idea if turning senior prosecutors into politicians is utterly ridiculous,” said the party’s justice spokesman Richard Baker.
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\r\n“In Scotland we have a long tradition of having a prosecution system which is independent of government and is focusing on prosecuting crime, not getting elected.
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\r\n“The suggestion in the report that prosecutors in the Highlands and Islands would focus on wildlife crime over other offences shows how out of touch this report actually is.”