The Scottish Executive's promise to cut crime and reduce delays in Scotland's court system will be undermined by a lack of funds, it has been claimed.
Radical change for the court system is in the pipeline
Scottish National Party MSP Nicola Sturgeon said Crown Office spending could flatline over the next two years.
And the overall justice budget would fall as a percentage of total spending.
Ministers have defended their record, saying there has been a 35% increase in the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) budget.
The COPFS, headed by Lord Advocate Colin Boyd QC, was given £65.1m in 2001/02 and in this financial year it received £87.9m, as it continued to
implement major internal changes to the service.
But Ms Sturgeon questioned why next year's budget, allowing for inflation,
would dip slightly to £87.6m, followed by £88m in 2005/06, just as
the service prepares for changes to the high courts system now going through
parliament, and a major review of sheriff courts.
Ms Sturgeon said: "That calls into question the ability of the Crown Office to deliver on the Scottish Executive's stated commitment of cutting crime and reducing delays in our courts system.
"Over the next year, the Crown Office will be expected to implement radical
changes in both high court and sheriff court procedure.
"And if the police continue to be successful in improving detection and clear
up rates, the pressure on the courts will continue to rise.
"It is hard to see how all of that can be achieved within a standstill
"The suspicion yet again must be that the Scottish Executive's commitment to
crime is all spin and precious little substance."
'Safe, strong Scotland'
But Deputy Justice Minister Hugh Henry insisted the executive was committed to funding "an effective and efficient" prosecution service.
He said: "A properly-resourced and managed Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is critical to helping cut crime and restoring public confidence in criminal justice.
"But increased resources for the Scottish justice system will only deliver
results if matched by a shared commitment to improve the work of our courts
through legislation where appropriate, and other practical improvements.
Nicola Sturgeon: "Lack of funding"
"We will continue to work closely with the police and those who work in our
courts to deliver a safer, stronger Scotland."
Mr Boyd said "significant investment" was already bearing fruit, with more than 200 members of staff recruited, including 45 lawyers and 10 trainee solicitors.
"We have invested in an IT system which has improved our systems for case
handling, and this will allow us to make significant savings on administration
expenditure which will in turn enable us to manage better within our enhanced
budget," he added.
"I am confident that the changes made and the resources now available will
allow the department to continue its pivotal contribution to Scottish criminal