New initiative promises stronger case management in summary courts

New initiative promises stronger case management in summary courts

A new initiative will see three sheriff courts, Dundee, Hamilton and Paisley, piloting a new approach to test the benefits of stronger judicial case management and earlier engagement with the Crown and defence agents in summary cases.

These pilots follow on from other Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) Evidence and Procedure Review initiatives which have led to changes in the way evidence is captured from children and vulnerable witnesses through pre-recorded evidence, and the creation of the Lord Justice Clerk’s review group which is taking a fresh look at how sexual offence cases are conducted in the courts.

The third strand of the Evidence and Procedure Review focused on summary criminal business, promoting radical proposals for the wider use of digital technology, supported by strong case management and clear timescales. Work is now underway, through Scottish government, to develop the capability for evidence in criminal cases to be securely shared digitally across police, COPFS, defence agents and the courts.

The pilots in Dundee, Hamilton and Paisley will commence in January 2020 and, ahead of future digital and legislative change, will aim to:

  • resolve cases at the earliest opportunity, without the need for a trial being fixed,
  • reduce the need for full disclosure where cases can be resolved,
  • reduce the number of cases called for trial,
  • reduce the number of witnesses unnecessarily called, and
  • preserve trials for cases that cannot be resolved by other means.

The pilots are judicially led by the respective sheriffs principal, with support and collaboration from the SCTS, Police Scotland, COPFS, and SLAB.

Details of the pilot are set out in a practice note published on the SCTS website. The note provides guidance on the practices which the Crown and the defence will be expected to adopt at pleading and intermediate diets calling after 6 January 2020.

Sheriff Principal Murray, North Strathclyde, said: “The practice note seeks to give direction to the Crown and defence to support the sheriff to undertake a more active case management role. The pilot will provide an opportunity to assess how more active case management works and how this may be enhanced in the future by legislative change or digital processing. Monitoring of the outcomes achieved in the three courts will provide an evidence base to support future developments.”

The pilots are anticipated to run for 18 months, with continual evaluation taking place. The results of the pilots will inform the next stages of a wider roll-out and incorporation of digital evidence sharing.

David Fraser, SCTS chief operating officer, said: “The importance of these pilots being judicially led, and the full collaboration of all justice organisations and defence solicitors, cannot be overstated. This is a real opportunity to test our research, determine what can work in practice, and how, together, we can reduce delays, witness inconvenience and costs within all parts of the justice system.”

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