We would like to hear from you.
The role of the independent prosecutor has quietly but effectively been replaced by Procurators Fiscal who aim to secure convictions, rather than serve justice. Professor Robert Black QC explains.
Once upon a time, when the world was yet young, and creatures called temporary sheriffs still roamed a far-off kingdom called Scotland (whose law officers – can you believe it, children? -- were selected from the ranks of practising lawyers, not bureaucrats) a jury sitting was held in a sheriff court in the wild, wild west of the land.
The jury sitting was presided over by a temporary sheriff dragooned from the civilized east of the realm, a gentleman and scholar of surpassingly benign disposition and handsome appearance. The sad creatures whose fate was determined in the sitting were represented by a series of defenders, most of whom were minions indentured to a gigantic but shadowy enterprise referred to (but only ever in whispers) as the Raw Sharper Empire. The representative of the Crown in this court was an official known (for reasons now lost in the mists of antiquity) as the Pee-Eff-Dee. This particular Pee-Eff-Dee was a person of the feminine gender, of towering intellect, wondrous beauty and such unparalleled ferocity that she was referred to by all who knew her (but never, ever to her face) as Attila the Hen.
Such was the vigour and rigour of the Pee-Eff-Dee’s questioning of those called to testify that the kindly temporary sheriff was obliged regularly to interrupt the proceedings to offer chairs, glasses of water, smelling salts and adjournments. And this was just for the Crown’s witnesses. If an accused person went into the witness box (and very few ever did) the judge insisted that medically qualified personnel be in attendance.
In each case, after all the evidence had been heard (and the blood on the courtroom floor had been mopped up) the Pee-Eff-Dee would address the jury of shell-shocked citizens. Here is what she always said:
“The Crown has no interest in obtaining convictions. The Crown’s only functions are to place before you all the material in its possession that you can properly take into account in reaching your decision to convict or to acquit, and to test any such material placed before you by the defence. The Crown neither wins nor loses cases, it contributes to the doing of justice.”
The jury would sometimes look surprised on hearing this. But the wise old temporary sheriff reaffirmed it when his turn came to address the jury. Because that is how it really was in those far off days.
When did it all change? That is a tale for another day.