Spotlight on … Practice
This month we shine the spotlight on our Practice function. We talk to SCRA’s Practice Manager Gill Short to find out more…
Q. Who are the Practice team?
A. We are a relatively small national team of highly experienced staff, currently three Practice Reporters and two Practice Assistants in addition to the manager post. Our most fundamental purpose is to provide practice standards – and materials, training and advice – to support high quality casework practice across the country. We work closely with Localities, and each Practice Reporter has a specific link to three Localities. The Practice Network, which consists of the Practice Team, Senior Practitioners and the Accreditation Manager, really helps us to build good connections and learn or share any trends or issues.
Q. Can you tell us a little bit about the work of the Practice team?
A. One of the great things about working in the Practice Team is the variety of matters and types of work that we deal with. As well as making the work really interesting, this gives us a good understanding from a number of different perspectives and I think helps us be more effective.
One important area is the development of Practice Direction, for issue by the Head of Practice and Policy. These provide all Reporter staff with direction on how to carry out their role, and cover a very wide range of topics. Practice Directions are supported by Practice Notes and other Practice materials. We review and update all our information on a regular basis, for example, following developments in case law or legislation or to address specific issues or queries that have arisen.
We are also responsible for developing and delivering Practice training. We have an extensive programme of training for reporter staff which includes core modules primarily directed at less experienced reporters, modules focussing on particular aspects in more depth for more experienced staff, and mandatory ongoing training on priority issues. For example, we are currently developing multi-day training for reporters on harmful sexual behaviour. When developing training we link closely with Senior Practitioners and the Practice Network, and the majority of training is delivered by members of the Practice team ideally along with Senior Practitioners. However for some training we bring in external experts. We also develop materials for Localities to use for local training where that is more appropriate than national delivery.
Another significant area of work is providing a Practice helpline (though most contact is by email rather than phone now) to respond to queries from reporters. Queries can include a quick call for clarification, an urgent query arising during a children’s hearing or court proceedings, or the start of involvement in longer term support for a complex casework situation.
Q. You mentioned court work, can you explain a little bit about the role of the Practice team in court?
A. Localities deal with court proceedings before the sheriff. However the Practice Team provides support through the provision of information and materials and by providing direction and advice in relation to specific cases. For example, we have produced Practice Notes on a large number of court-related matters and provide outline submissions for the commonly occurring matters that reporters will require to address the sheriff on. A significant proportion of Practice training relates to court work, including preparation and advocacy skills. Exceptionally, we may appear in proceedings before the sheriff if there is a particularly unusual point of law or procedure to be dealt with.
The Practice Team manages any appeal to the Sheriff Appeal Court or Court of Session against a decision of the sheriff. Usually this involves instructing and working closely with our external solicitors and deciding what our position in the appeal will be. The case reporter retains an important role in the process given their knowledge of the matters being appealed against. We also manage any other relevant proceedings in the higher courts, such as judicial reviews.
Q. What about external partnership?
A. We work closely with partner agencies at national level, including the Scottish Government, Police Scotland, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and Children’s Hearings Scotland. And we are involved in various national level interagency groups. Partnership work includes both the development of policy and legislation, and implementation. We are involved in, for example, work in relation to the age of criminal responsibility, the new Children’s Care and Justice Bill, the new Scottish Child Interview Model, Scotland’s Bairn’s Hoose, participation rights at children’s hearings, and jointly reported offences.
The team also deliver training at national level to external partners such as Police Scotland and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.
Q. Did the pandemic impact on your work?
A. The pandemic introduced new challenges in terms of reporters being able to carry out their statutory functions, and hearings being able to take place, all in a way that properly balanced the various rights and interests of those affected. The Practice Team engaged with consideration of these issues, internally and with partners. As well as explaining changes to practice within the existing legislation, there was new legislation to work with and explain to reporters. We also worked with colleagues on information for children, parents and others.
Prior to COVID-19 restrictions, Practice training was always face to face to enable participants to get the most out of the training. During the restrictions we were able to deliver some training virtually and since then we have continued to offer some modules virtually, as it reduces the impact of travel particularly for Localities and individuals situated further afield.
Q. What does the future hold?
A. Given the variety of matters that the team deals with, we can never know for sure what new significant issue might arise, whether from Locality casework, a new issue being raised on appeal, or partnership work. However, we do know of some key areas that will be a particular focus. There’s lots of Keeping The Promise activity going on. Members of the team are involved in different improvement projects and our Head of Practice and Policy sits on the Hearings System Working Group, so we are looking forward to seeing what comes from the group in the spring time. There’s potentially going to be new legislation, so we would be heavily involved in that. We are also heavily involved in the ongoing process of the Children’s Care and Justice Bill and the planning for implementation. New legislation means development of information and training for reporters, so we expect it’s going to be a busy time for us on top of the usual day-to-day work.