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Procurators Fiscal should be elected, says think-tank – Times

Times
Charlene Sweeney, 9.10.08

Scotland\’s most senior prosecutors should be directly elected by the public, along similar lines as US district attorneys, in order to increase accountability in the criminal justice system, a think-tank has said. It has also called for sentences of less than three months to be abolished, claiming they are expensive and ineffective.

The recommendations are contained in Power to Protect, a report published today by the right-wing think-tank Reform Scotland.

Although figures released last month showed that crime in Scotland fell in 2006-07, the report points out that over the past decade the total number of offences has risen by 4 per cent. Spending on criminal justice has increased by 44 per cent, reaching £1.6billion last year, while the prison population has soared by 22 per cent, leading to serious overcrowding.

Ben Thomson, the founder and chairman of Reform Scotland, said: “Radical changes are still required if we are to build a criminal justice system that is tough on crime and affords our citizens better protection.”

The research paper offers a number of proposals to cut crime, including ending automatic early release for prisoners, publishing figures that show the number of crimes and offences that are prosecuted, instead of the number of individuals prosecuted to give a truer picture and reorganising Scotland\’s police forces so that they are answerable to local authorities.

Its most contentious recommendation, however, is that Scotland\’s senior prosecutors should be voted into office rather than appointed. The report suggests that prosecutors should be elected in a similar way to American district attorneys, where non-partisan candidates compete on the basis of individual policies.

Such a move, it said, would allow the public to express their dissatisfaction with decisions made by prosecutors, and help to promote more openness about the policies pursued by the prosecution service.

The report also said it would allow prosecutors to tailor individual solutions for their regions, arguing that an area procurator fiscal in Glasgow could take a tougher stance on drug crime, while his or her counterpart in the Highlands could prioritise wildlife crime.