Okay, so this is the verdict of my day with the Procurator Fiscal (PF) last Tuesday.
The day started at 9am when I arrived at the PF’s Office in Anytown. I was introduced to the Fiscal Depute (FD) who I would be shadowing that day and they took me through the list for the court. I was going to be shadowing them in Court 3 of Anytown Sheriff Court (SC). We left, along with all the other people going to the SC, at about 09:10 and were in court 10 minutes later (after I made my way through the airport style security).
We sat and we had a chat about various things. We talked about basic Criminal Procedure and also the Zero-tolerance policy operating on Domestic Violence and Racial offences (particularly the former as there were a number of those cases set down for court that day). At about 09:35 the Defence Agents came in and started plea bargaining with the FD (yes, despite what COPFS tell you plea bargaining still goes on) this cut the list from six cases to five, so not a very busy day (the FD had told me the numbers have improved quite a bit, it used to be normal for an FD to have 50 cases on their list for a day). The court police officer came in (Along with other court officials) and spoke to the FD about the order the cases would be called that day. Eventually at about 10:15 the sheriff came and court began.
The court proceedings were quite confusing to begin with, and that’s for someone who knows something about them! The cases were called and were all for trial.
The first trial of the day was a case under the Road Traffic Act 1988. I’m still unsure what the charge was and I can’t remember the particular section so I can’t go and look. This case got to the end of the Crown evidence fairly quickly – there were only two Crown witnesses. The defence stood and led no evidence, instead asking for it to be concluded that day as part-heard as one of their witnesses hadn’t turned up. The sheriff agreed to this and bail was continued for the accused. Given that the defence being led was one of incrimination and alibi it was more than reasonable for this to be granted by the sheriff. The witness who never turned up will be personally cited to appear next time (rather than cited by post).
The second case before the court was the first of three domestic assault cases. The accused plead guilty to the complaint following a slight amendment to the complaint. Sentence was deferred for 6 months for good behaviour.
The third case on the list was rescheduled on a defence motion. Again, I can’t remember what the complaint was.
The next case to be heard in Court number 3 at Anytown SC was the second of the domestic Assault cases before the court that day. It was also a case brought under the zero tolerance policy, which really had no reason to be there. Essentially it was a drunken argument between girlfriend and boyfriend (now ex) and there was violence on both sides, but the boyfriend came off worse. Both were charged, but the boyfriend’s case was dropped earlier and now his girlfriend was in the dock for assaulting him. The defence led was self-defence. While the case didn’t tick all the boxes of self-defence (and the sheriff admitted this) the verdict delivered by the sheriff was one of “Not Guilty”.
The final case was another domestic assault case. This was another case where the girlfriend was the accused person. I can’t remember the circumstances of the case. However, I do remember it being a case that wasn’t really suitable for court. Again, the verdict was one of “Not Guilty”
All the business for that day was over by 12:50. The sheriff described it as a day that was spent dealing with mainly “unintended consequences of blanket policies”. This was unexpected so nobody had an idea what to do with me in the afternoon.
Before lunch I had a chat with one of the defence agents and had some of my questions answered. I headed off for lunch and told to report back to the PF’s office at 2pm.
When I went back at 2pm I went up to case marking. This is where it is decided what is going to happen to a case. I was shown how the cases were marked, which was quite interesting. While I was up there I also learned about vulnerable witnesses (i.e. how they are dealt with), search warrants and SACRO.
Once I’d finished learning from case marking I was taken down to the Solomn team. I should have said that I was with the summary team in the morning. Solomn and Summary are two criminal procedures in Scotland (it would be too boring to go into them in detail, but it is suffice to say that summary is less serious). They were very busy preparing a few murder cases, but they still took the time out to talk to me about what they do and how much work is involved in Solomn. Here I also learned about how they deal with suspicious or unexplained deaths and Fatal Accident Inquiries. By this time it was 5pm and time to go home (although not for all the FD’s who were still working there way though mountains of case files)
It was a very interesting day and I learned a lot. I am really glad that I got the chance to do it!