Crown Of­fice is there to serve pub­lic, not ig­nore it

Sunday Mail (UK) - - Opinion -

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

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