Many of our readers, including those who attended our Land and Rural Business Conferences in November 2015, will be aware that the Solicitor General, Lesley Thomson QC, has been leading a review of policy on the prosecution of agricultural crime at the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service ('COPFS'). That review concluded in December 2015 with the announcement of a 'new approach' to tackling agricultural crime.

Established in March 2015, the Agricultural Crime Prosecution Policy Review Group (the 'Review Group') grew out of

A picture of a sheep and lamb

increasing concern amongst the rural community about the COPFS approach to agricultural crimes such as theft of farm vehicles; machinery or livestock; vandalism or the worrying of livestock. Stakeholders such as NFU Scotland, who were later to be involved in the Review Group, argued that plea bargaining and a lack of focus on the wider effects of offences was leading to punishments which failed to appropriately reflect the seriousness of crimes, or the impact of crimes on communities. Announcing the new policy in December, the Solicitor General acknowledged these concerns:

All too often, the public focus of crime is on cities and built-up areas. But of course we know that offending is not limited to the urban environment, and as prosecutors it is our duty to ensure that agricultural communities are protected, listened to and their concerns addressed. We know too that farms can be subject to particular types of crime, which in turn can have a particularly profound effect both in reinforcing a sense of vulnerability and causing lasting damage to agricultural businesses.

Under the new strategy, COPFS staff who handle agricultural crimes will be trained in the 'significant financial and emotional impact that agricultural offences can have on rural businesses, communities and individuals'. Information on these impacts will be collected by police from the earliest stages of investigations so that it can be presented to a sheriff or judge at the point of sentencing, helping to ensure that the 'punishment fits the crime'.

Additionally, where agricultural offences involve organised crime, cases will be passed to prosecutors within COPFS' serious and organised crime division in order that proceeds of crime legislation is utilised to its best extent to recover money and assets of victims.

If you wish to discuss any issues relating to agricultural crime, please get in touch with your usual Land and Rural Business contact or with our head of agricultural crime, Paul Marshall. We would also welcome your views on the new approach.