Fiscals should be elected in US style, says think-tank – P&J

Press & Journal
Tim Pauling, 9.10.08

Senior prosecutors should be elected to office in a similar fashion to district attorneys in the US, according to a Scottish think-tank.

Reform Scotland called for jail sentences of under three months to be scrapped and for an end to automatic early release. The proposals were put forward as part of a radical plan to reform the police and criminal justice system.

The non-aligned think-tank said in the report, Power to Protect, that greater acc-ountability and transparency in the police, prosecution service and courts were vital if there was to be sustained reduction in crime levels.

It said electing Scotland’s 11 fiscals would make them directly accountable to the public.

“We would not envisage these elections being party political. Rather, the elections would be a contest between the policies and attitudes the different individuals would adopt in office, similar to the way in which district attorneys are elected in the US.”

Reform Scotland said there was little point in sending people to prison for less than three months as short sentences offered no opportunity for rehabilitation.

It recommended that district and justice of the peace courts – which impose sentences of up to 90 days – should no longer send people to jail in the first instance. In addition, sheriffs should send an offender to prison in the first instance only if it was for longer than three months.

The report called for police forces to be reorganised along local authority boundaries.

This would not mean 32 police forces, but would mean that the chief constable was answerable to a councillor appointed for each area.

Discretion
Reform Scotland said judges should be given wider discretion when handing down sentences, and called for an end to early release.

Former HM Inspector of said: “It makes a number of sensible suggestions.”

A government spokesman said the lord advocate had encouraged fiscals to engage with their communities so local needs were addressed.

“Scotland’s distinctive justice system, including the long-established independence of the lord advocate as head of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, continues to serve the nation well,” he said.

The report said elections would allow fiscals to respond to regional needs.

“For example, the area 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,” said the report.

“However, in the Highlands and Islands, an area procurator fiscal may have been elected to take a stance against wildlife crimes.”

Labour justice spokesman Richard Baker said: “In Scotland, we have a long tradition of having a prosecution system which is independent of government and is focused on prosecuting crime, not getting elected.

“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 actually is.”

Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Robert Brown said: “This idea is an attempt to copy the US system, which is beset with problems.”