‘Ridiculous charade’: SCTS denies claims of trials doomed to delay being called simply to meet targets

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) has firmly denied that thousands of witnesses are being called to trials which fail to go ahead – at a cost of £10 million to the taxpayer.

The Sunday Post reports that, according to legal insiders, court officials are calling trials to ensure they meet targets, despite knowing the cases will be adjourned as there is not enough time for them to be heard.

An investigation by the paper found that there has been a 65 per cent increase in cases adjourned for “lack of court time” over the past five years and that witnesses are being asked to appear for days at a time without adequate food and water.

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) claimed, however, that there was “clear evidence that our court programming and scheduling of trials is effective”.

But an anonymous sheriff told the Post: “It is a joke.

“Every day I know there is not a hope in hell that all of these trials will be going ahead, as do the court staff and lawyers, but the ridiculous charade has to be acted out for the sake of meeting target dates.”

Figures show that the number of High Court, Sheriff Court and Justice of the Peace Court trials adjourned as a result of lack of court time has risen – by 65 per cent – from 2,608 in 2011/12 to 4,302 in 2015/16.

Trials have increased by 27.7 per cent over the same period.

A conservative estimate would put the number of witnesses turning up unnecessarily at 13,000, according to insiders.

An Audit Scotland report published last year found that more cases were going to trial and taking longer to conclude in the Sheriff Court.

Cases completed, on average, in 19 weeks in 2010/11. By 2014/15, this had jumped to 22 weeks.

During that period 10 sheriff courts were closed and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service’s (COPFS) budget was reduced by the Scottish government.

In 2015, 35 per cent of cases breached the legal limit on the period within which a case should be heard.

Audit Scotland estimated that “almost half of summary cases did not proceed as planned in sheriff courts in 2014/15”.

It added: “We estimate the cost of cases repeating stages unnecessarily, could have been as much as £10 million in 2014/15.”

An SCTS spokesman told the Post: “Court programming is very complex by its nature and we need to constantly predict and readjust based on the numbers of cases that are likely to proceed to evidence-based trials.

“Any suggestion that trials are scheduled to ‘hit targets’ is complete nonsense.

“Had this been the case the percentage of cases adjourned would have increased significantly.

“The fact that it has remained within a one per cent variance is clear evidence that our court programming and scheduling of trials is effective.”