This item was published during the term of a previous administration that ended in April 2007
Court Reform: Modernising Justice
COURT REFORM: Modernising Justice
The Bill will deal with the reform of the practices and procedures of the High Court of Justiciary.
It will include:
- A more managed approach to High Court business, with a mandatory preliminary hearing to get procedural matters out of the way before the trial
- Greater certainty about when trials will start, which will particularly benefit victims and witnesses
- Modernisation of the custody time limits in High Court cases; the 110 days time limit will now run to the new preliminary hearing, and the trial must begin within 140 days
- Changing the consequences of failing to meet the custody time limit to avoid the accused escaping justice on a technicality
- More encouragement for accused who intend to plead guilty to do so as early as possible.
It will replace some existing provisions in the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act and represents some of the most fundamental changes to solemn procedure in the last 20 years.
It will be supported by major changes in Crown practice to ensure that the defence gets earlier information about the prosecution case.
In parallel it is also proposed to bring into effect an existing statutory provision increasing Sheriff sentencing powers from three to five years to ensure that the reformed High Court can concentrate on the most serious cases.
Key provisions of the Bill
- Summary - the Bill (and supporting changes in Crown procedure) will ensure that case preparation is earlier and more thorough. Cases will come to trial only when they are ready to be heard, and trials will be less easily thwarted by reluctant witnesses or accused.
- Mandatory preliminary hearing. This is not currently a routine part of High Court procedure. The judge will sort out procedural matters connected with evidence and necessary witnesses and will only set a date for the trial when it is clear that the prosecution and defence can proceed.
- Victims and Witnesses. The Bill will ensure that accused do not escape justice due to a technicality; where the Crown cannot meet the 110 day custody time limit the accused will be given bail, but will not be free for all time.
- More efficient justice. There will be less scope for the defence or the prosecution to lodge evidence or pleas late in the day, and more scope for the judge to manage proceedings in the interest of justice.
On December 11, 2002, the Deputy First Minister and the Lord Advocate launched a four-month consultation period. Consultation ended April 12, 2003. White Paper now being prepared to be presented to Cabinet and to be published by end of June. Bill to be ready for introduction by November/December 2003.