The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Services (COPFS) and SEPA are committed to ensuring effective liaison so that reports from SEPA achieve the best outcome for the environment and the public interest. The Environmental Crime Protocol has been developed to ensure that liaison arrangements between COPFS and SEPA are transparent, with cases being dealt with in the most effective and consistent way.
COPFS is divided into 11 regions; each region has nominated at least one Procurator Fiscal Depute to specialise in SEPA cases (Area Specialist). A summary of the responsibilities of SEPA and the Area Specialists are set out below. In addition, the protocol covers liaison arrangements at national and local level and joint training as well as disclosure and publicity. Reference should be made to the Protocol for more detail.
Summary of SEPA responsibilities
- If the Reporting Solicitor has any concerns about a case they should be discussed as early as possible with the Area Specialist (or allocated Procurator Fiscal Depute), requesting a case conference if this would assist.
- SEPA’s target is to report 90% of cases within six* (or four**) months of the date of the incident to ensure there are no undue delays in investigations and reporting. Technically complex investigations, especially those requiring specialist evidence, may take longer. *Six months applies for offences that are triable summarily or on indictment, for which there is no statutory time limit by which proceedings must be raised. **Four months applies for offences that are triable summarily only, for which there is a statutory six-month time limit by which proceedings must be raised; eg failing to comply with a section 59 EPA notice.
- SEPA will prepare a Prosecution Report in accordance with the Guide for Specialist Reporting Agencies and SEPA internal guidance.
- SEPA will submit reports electronically via Specialist Reporting Agency Website (SRAWEB) to COPFS.
- The Reporting Solicitor will notify the Area Specialist of submission of the report. Any productions and visual aids will be sent direct to the Area Specialist, with a covering letter from the solicitor copied to the relevant district.
- All SEPA enquiries about the progress of the case should be directed to the Area Specialist and contain the Procurator Fiscal reference number.
- SEPA will not disclose a decision not to proceed to an accused without the written consent of the Area Specialist.
- The Reporting Officer or solicitor may attend court for information and to assist the Area Specialist or allocated Procurator Fiscal (PF) Depute. They will make themselves known to the PF in court, so that any issues concerning their presence can be discussed with the defence.
- Where SEPA staff are cited to attend at court, they should immediately contact the Area Specialist or the Reporting Solicitor if there are any problems of availability. Where their attendance is subsequently not needed (eg change of plea) they will be promptly informed.
- If there is a possibility of a Crown appeal following the conclusion of a case, SEPA should make immediate representations to the Area Specialist, which can be taken into account by the Appeals Unit and Crown Counsel when considering the merits of an appeal.
Responsibilities of COPFS Area Specialist
- A letter of acknowledgement of receipt of a case will be sent to the Reporting Solicitor within 14 days, containing the Procurator Fiscal reference, confirmation of who is dealing with the case and the contact telephone number.
- Requests for any further information from SEPA will be directed to the Reporting Solicitor, who will arrange to provide it as soon as practicable.
- The Area Specialist will take the views of SEPA into account when marking a case.
- The Area Specialist will let the Reporting Solicitor know whether or not proceedings will be taken within five weeks of receipt of the Prosecution Report. If more time is needed, the Area Specialist will give the solicitor a revised timescale.
- When the Area Specialist decides to take no proceedings or an alternative to prosecution, s/he will advise the Reporting Solicitor in writing with details of any reasons that can be disclosed.
- When the Area Specialist decides to take proceedings the forum and charges will be discussed with the Reporting Solicitor.
- The decision will be communicated in writing to the Reporting Solicitor, with a copy of the complaint or petition and a note of when the case will call in court, if known. When the calling date is not known it will be communicated to the solicitor as soon as it becomes available.
- The Area Specialist will let the Reporting Solicitor know the outcome of any callings of the case as soon as practicable and within no more than five working days, and will advise on the next stage in proceedings.
- If the accused pleads guilty or is convicted, the Area Specialist will communicate this on the same day if possible.
- When the charges drafted by SEPA are to be substantially changed or the Area Specialist is considering a plea adjustment that will result in not guilty pleas being accepted to some charges, the Reporting Solicitor should be advised and any views expressed by him/her taken into consideration.
- When the case has been allocated for advance notice preparation (for trial or debate) and the Area Specialist is unable to deal personally with the case, details and a contact telephone number will be communicated to the Reporting Solicitor, with a request for a pre-trial case conference.
Post disposal assessment meeting
For significant cases, or at the request of either party, a post-disposal assessment meeting may be called to learn lessons for the future. Any learning can be reported back to the SEPA/COPFS national or local liaison meetings.