Pilot leads to substantial reduction in witnesses attending court unnecessarily

Pilot leads to substantial reduction in witnesses attending court unnecessarily

A pilot scheme introduced at three Scottish courts to improve the processing of summary crime has led to one third fewer police witnesses being cited in domestic abuse cases in its first 12 months.

An interim report on the Summary Case Management pilot published today, reveals that key achievements in the past 12 months include:

  • At least 250 summary trials did not require to be assigned in the pilot courts, directly as a result of early resolution due to SCM;
  • A 25 per cent reduction in the first citation of civilian witnesses in domestic abuse cases in the aggregated pilot courts; and
  • A 34 per cent reduction in the first citation of police witnesses in domestic abuse cases in the aggregated pilot courts.

The Summary Case Management (SCM) Pilot, introduced at Dundee, Hamilton and Paisley Sheriff Courts in September last year, seeks to reduce the number of unnecessary hearings at summary level by facilitating early disclosure of evidence, early engagement between the Crown and defence and early judicial case management. It aims to reduce the number of cases set down for trial unnecessarily and to reduce the volume of late pleas of guilty and late decisions to discontinue proceedings.

In terms of the pilot, key evidence should be available to be released to the defence prior to or at the first calling in all domestic abuse cases. Specified disclosure material can be requested where it is considered that such early disclosure may make a material difference to a plea or the early resolution of issues in all non-domestic abuse cases.

Sheriff Principal Aisha Anwar, who has been leading the development of the SCM Pilot, said: “These early outcomes represent tangible benefits to each justice partner organisation, with room for further improvement. Importantly, the SCM Pilot is improving the efficiency of our summary criminal courts to the benefit of complainers, witnesses, the accused and wider society.

“As a result we are now looking to roll out the pilot to other areas starting with Domestic Abuse cases in Glasgow Sheriff Court at the end of January 2024.

“The pilot can only operate successfully with the cooperation of those who work across the justice sector, including Police Scotland, the Crown and the defence. I thank them for engaging positively with the pilot, which is having a significant impact on the number of unnecessary hearings and the number of witnesses cited in summary courts”.

Jennifer Harrower, deputy crown agent for local court, said: “It is clear from the report that several benefits have been achieved as a result of the pilot. Partnership working has addressed the concerns of many impacted by crime and made it easier to seek earlier resolution with more efficient agreement of evidence.

“The new approach taken by COPFS as part of the pilot has been to engage at an earlier stage with victims of domestic abuse by offering more direct and proactive communications with prosecutors. Victims have told us this has made them feel listened to and included. We are pleased that this work will expand to Glasgow in 2024.”

Peter Lockhart, solicitor and member of the Law Society’s Criminal Law Committee, said: “The benefits and opportunities for defence agents are clear to see. Being provided with full disclosure at the earliest opportunity allows instructions to be taken from clients, with pleas negotiated where possible.

“If this is not possible, both crown and defence will be aware at the earliest stage of the essential points in dispute at trial. This should result in further agreement of evidence and a reduction in the number of witnesses. These factors taken together will reduce the amount of unproductive time defence agents spend in court.”

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