The role of Crown Office and the Procurator Fiscal Service

The Prosecution of crime

Although it is possible for an individual to seek authority to take a private prosecution, the procedure is very rarely invoked and virtually all criminal proceedings in Scotland are by means of public prosecution. The Lord Advocate prosecutes crime in the public interest, assisted by the Solicitor General, Advocates Depute, and Procurators Fiscal, who are the local agents of, and appointed by the Lord Advocate.

Before 1975, in Scotland, HSE inspectors could initiate and conduct proceedings in the Sheriff Court but lost that authority when the Health and Safety at Work Act came into force. Since then prosecution of health and safety offences has been through HSE or local authority inspectors reporting offences to the Procurator Fiscal, or occasionally, by the Procurators Fiscal raising a case themselves on the basis of evidence from other sources, such as the police.

The Law Officers

The Lord Advocate and Solicitor General are the senior legal advisers to the government in Scotland; they are political appointments and change with the Government of the day; both are Ministers in the Scottish Executive. Although the Lord Advocate isn't a member of the Cabinet he/she does attend Cabinet meetings. The Lord Advocate is in charge of the prosecution of crime and the investigation of deaths in Scotland; in this role the Lord Advocate acts independently of the Executive.

Crown Counsel

Crown Counsel is the term used to refer to the Lord Advocate, Solicitor General and the Advocates Depute. Advocates Depute prosecute cases in the High Court, appear on behalf of the Crown in the criminal Appeal Court, make decisions about Fatal Accident Inquiries, and also assist and provide legal advice to the Procurators Fiscal on issues of complexity or sensitivity. Advocates Depute are either Advocates, Solicitor Advocates, or, Procurators Fiscal. There are, at present, three categories: Senior Advocates Depute (prosecuting serious/sensitive cases), Advocates Depute (prosecuting the majority of cases in the High Court), and, Ad Hoc Advocates Depute (appointed on an ad hoc basis to respond to variations in workload).

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is Scotland's independent public prosecution service. The service is a department of the Scottish Executive and is led by the Scottish law officers. The most serious crime is prosecuted by the Lord Advocate in the High Court of Justiciary; the majority of less serious cases are prosecuted in the local sheriff courts by Procurators Fiscal.

The Crown Office

The Crown Office is the departmental headquarters of the Procurator Fiscal service and is where the Law Officers and Advocates Depute are based.

The Crown Agent is the principal legal adviser on prosecutions to the Lord Advocate and departmental head of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. The Deputy Crown Agent is responsible for operational matters in the Fiscal's Office, heads up the Operations Group and is an experienced member of the permanent legal staff of the prosecution service.

Crown Office, Edinburgh is the main departmental headquarters, with three main divisions:

  • Operations, which includes staff who prepare cases for the High Court and Court of Appeal, and the Fraud and Specialist Services Unit;
  • Policy Group, which has responsibility for departmental policy, practice and parliamentary support;
  • Corporate Services Group, which provides central services including finance, personnel, estates and IT.

Until 2003 there had been an additional division; the Quality and Practice Review Unit. This division has now (following the recommendations in the Jandoo report) been replaced by an independent Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland.

More details are provided on the Crown Office website in their Organisational Chart.

The Procurator Fiscal

Procurators Fiscal are civil servants qualified as Solicitors, Solicitor-Advocates, or Advocates and are independent prosecutors, constitutionally responsible to the Lord Advocate. They receive and consider reports from the Police and over 40 other agencies and decide whether or not to raise criminal proceedings in the public interest. The Procurators Fiscal (and Procurators Fiscal Depute) prosecute all criminal cases in the sheriff courts.

In addition to their role in prosecuting crime the Procurator Fiscal has a responsibility to investigate all sudden, suspicious, and unexplained deaths in Scotland. In particular this includes all deaths resulting from an accident in the course of employment or occupation; this results in a Fatal Accident Inquiry unless the death results from natural causes. Decisions on whether to hold Fatal Accident Inquiries are usually taken by Advocates Depute.

The Procurator Fiscal Service

Information about the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is available on their website..

Health and safety cases and most Fatal Accident Inquiries relating to work related deaths, are dealt with by a dedicated team of Procurators Fiscal and support staff, including Via officers, called the Health and Safety Division with offices in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

There are arrangements in place for regular liaison between enforcing authorities and the COPFS H&S Division through the office of the HSE Director for Scotland and Northern England.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Courts website provides a complete List of courts and addresses.

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Updated 2021-01-27