Crown Office is there to serve public, not ignore it
The Lord Advocate of Scotland is, it’s easy to forget, a servant of the people.
Despite the title and grandeur of office, James Wolffe’s job is mainly to lead public prosecutions for the Government which appointed him.
Ultimately, he is answerable to the voters. Not that you’d know it.
A recurring theme of the public’s dealings with Mr Wolffe’s Crown Office is a lack of information and communication.
Perhaps the Lord Advocate and his senior staff have become too comfortable talking to each other in their favoured impenetrable legalese to pay attention to ordinary folk. If so, that’s a great pity. The experiences suffered by families in cases highlighted by the Sunday Mail today make for grim reading.
Consider, for example, the words of Ian O’Prey, who lost 44-year- old son Mark in the Clutha helicopter crash and still waits for any sign of the Fatal Accident Inquiry which can be ordered by Mr Wolffe.
He says: “We never seem to know what’s going on or hear of any progress.
“In the last communication I had from the Crown Office, they said they’re pursuing the matter further. That is one letter in the past year or so. If there is an FAI, I hope I live long enough to see it. I seem to say that every year.”
That’s the problem with investigations which take three, five, 10 years to resolve. Evidence deteriorates. Memories fade. Witnesses die. Mr O’Prey’s experiences are not unique. Time after time, individuals complain of being left completely in the dark as they come to terms with a life-changing trauma.
We are talking about people often grieving the loss of a loved one, other victims of crime, and people who live under the shadow of a criminal charge.
They are the people the Lord Advocate and the Crown Office exist to serve.
One of James Wolffe’s considerable powers is to accuse individuals of being in contempt of court.
He should be careful he is not, himself, in contempt of the public he is paid to serve.
There are times when, for legal reasons, it’s neither sensible nor realistic to keep victims informed of every move in the process.
That is no excuse for a complete shutdown and a creeping culture of secrecy for secrecy’s sake.
SHUTDOWN James Wolffe