Following the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service’s ‘Evidence and Procedure Review’, Dundee, Hamilton and Paisley Sheriff Courts are piloting a new case management system in criminal cases at summary level.
The pilots are judicially led by the respective sheriffs principal, with full support and collaboration from the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, (SCTS) Police Scotland, COPFS, and SLAB. It will run for a minimum of 18 months and then, if successful, rolled out to the remaining courts. The pilots will operate as set out by the Lord Justice General’s Practice Note No2 of 2019 and will apply to cases in which the first calling occurs on or after 6th January 2020.
The pilot aims 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;
- Preserve trials for cases that cannot be resolved by any other means.
Wider use of digital technology is to be encouraged, along with a strong case management system with clear timescales.
At the pleading diet (first calling of the case), Sheriffs will ask solicitors to confirm that they have discussed the summary of evidence with their clients. Continuation without plea will only be allowed if the Sheriff is satisfied that further evidentiary disclosure would assist the agreement of a plea, and that disclosure can be made within 4 weeks.
The overhaul to the preparation of intermediate diets will focus the crown and defence and minimise unnecessary court delays. As a matter of good practice, the crown and defence will be expected to complete and lodge with the sheriff clerk the form set out the schedule to Practice Note No2 at least 2 clear working days prior to the intermediate diet. The form will outline to the court the state of preparation of the case. A copy is also be sent by the crown and defence to all other parties.
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”
Lord Justice General’s Practice Note No2 of 2019 can be downloaded here: https://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/rules-and-practice/practice-notes/criminal-courts-practice-notes-and-directions