Under the Scottish legal system almost all prosecution of criminal offences is by the Crown in the person of Her Majesty's Lord Advocate or the Procurator Fiscal. It is part of the Scottish Government.
The Service has extensive responsibilities in the investigation and prosecution of crime. It decides whether or not to start criminal proceedings, even if the accused has not yet been arrested or charged by the police, and the Crown is not required to give any reason for the decision. The Service is also responsible for the investigation of deaths in Scotland; there is no separate system of Coroner or Coroners Courts in Scotland. Where the police are believed to have behaved in a criminal manner the Crown Office replicates the role of the Independent Police Complaints Commission in England and Wales.
The service is headed by the Lord Advocate and all prosecutions are carried out in his or her name. The Lord Advocate is assisted by the Solicitor General for Scotland. The day to day running of the service is done by the Crown Agent & Chief Executive and the management board who are based in the HQ in Chambers Street, Edinburgh.
The office dates back to Medieval times, with the earliest Lord Advocate being John Ross of Montgrenan whom the King appointed as his commissioner at a hearing in Stirling in 1476, then as procurator for another case in Edinburgh in the following year. The role was officially acknowledged in 1494. Nowadays The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is a Department of the Scottish Government, led by the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor General for Scotland who are the legal advisers to the government and may participate in the proceedings of the Scottish Parliament.
The Lord Advocate has responsibility for prosecuting the most serious crimes, in the High Court of Justiciary and the Court of Appeal. Unless the cases are of particular importance, such as the Lockerbie trial held at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, the prosecutions are led by Advocates Depute who are known collectively as Crown Counsel and are experienced advocates normally appointed for a limited period of three years.
Their decision to prosecute is taken in the light of the Procurator Fiscal's recommendations and a report prepared by the police. The defence is presented by an Advocate briefed by the client's solicitor or by a Solicitor-Advocate specialising in Criminal Law.
The Crown Agent also holds the office of Queen's and Lord Treasurer's Remembrancer
For the majority of crimes in Scotland the Procurator Fiscal presents the case for the prosecution in the Sheriff and District Courts, and the case for the defence is presented either by the accused's own solicitor or by a public defender.
The Procurator Fiscal makes preliminary investigations into criminal cases, takes written statements from witnesses (known as precognition) and is responsible for the investigation and prosecution of crime. This includes the power to direct the police in their investigation, but except for serious crimes such as murder the police normally complete their enquiries before involving the Procurator Fiscal. Once someone has been charged with an offence and remanded in custody, the Crown must bring the case to trial within 110 days or the accused will be admitted to bail. Otherwise, in serious cases (solemn procedure) the trial must commence within 12 months of the date of first appearance in court.
The procurator fiscal is the local prosecutor in Scotland and he/she will have under them a team of Deputes who will represent the Fiscal in Court. A large number of Scottish solicitors spend a period of their career as a Fiscal Depute.
Each Fiscal office jurisdiction will correspond to the local Sheriff Court jurisdiction and most of the Fiscal offices in Scotland are either in or near the Sheriff Court.
The Fiscal staff are responsible for a wide range of tasks which include the preparation of Court papers and dealing with queries from victims, witnesses and Police. The Procurator Fiscal is also responsible for the investigation of all sudden, suspicious and unexplained deaths in Scotland.
In some cases, the Fiscal can refer the accused to a social worker or a psychiatrist for support and treatment rather than punishment with the aim of treating the cause of the problems to prevent re-offending.
Within the areas, there is a network of 48 Procurator Fiscal offices, one for each Sheriff Court district.