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Minor Offences (Trial)

Volume 649: debated on Wednesday 15 November 1961

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22.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what steps he is taking to ensure that due expedition is shown in hearing the cases of persons charged with minor offences in Scotland.

This is a matter that my right hon. Friend keeps under review in consultation with my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate and, as the hon. Member knows, the number of sheriffs-substitute and the staffing arrangements for the courts are adjusted from time to time. In addition, courts where business is heavy are given temporary assistance.

The Secretary of State has been keeping this matter so long under review that he seems to have forgotten about it altogether. Does the Under-Secretary of State realise that the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Thomson, recently protested against these unfair delays to the persons charged—they run to about four months—and that the Sheriff of Ayr and Bute recently said that this was a scandalous situation? Could not the hon. Gentleman encourage his right hon Friend to be a little more active and indicate now any steps that could be taken to reduce these delays?

My right hon. Friend certainly has not forgotten about this matter. With regard to Glasgow's difficulties, which have become greater, I think that the recent appointment of an additional sheriff-substitute and provision of new court room facilities should speed things up.

Does the Minister not realise that the right to a speedy trial involves an honoured principle of British law which still applies in Scotland? Will he take a lesson from what is being done in England by the speedy appointment of more judges and ensure that accused persons are not kept confined longer than is necessary and are brought to a speedy trial?

The hon. and learned Member will appreciate that in fixing dates for trials priority is invariably given to those cases in which the accused is in custody because he has been refused bail.