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Criminal Cases (Statistics)

Volume 974: debated on Wednesday 21 November 1979

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asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland what was the average length of time from first appearance to final disposal in criminal cases in Scotland in 1978.

To give an average figure for the whole of Scotland in 1978 would be misleading because of regional fluctuations in the length of time between first appearance and final disposal. To give one overall average would also be misleading because of the differences between solemn and summary procedure. However, at present it appears that in summary cases where a person is detained in custody the average length of time between the first appearance and trial is two to three weeks. Where the person is not detained in custody, the average length of time concerned is between 14 and 18 weeks. In solemn proceedings cases the average length of time between full committal and disposal is approximately 19 weeks.

I thank the Solicitor-General for Scotland for that reply. Will he say whether the figures for 1978 are satisfactory and likely to be about the same in 1980? I leave out 1979 because of the clerks' strike which obviously affected the figures. Are the particular problems, for example in cases of fraud and embezzlement, causing cases to last an unusually long time?

We are always seeking to make improvements. I say, with respect, that the Scottish figures relating to the time between indictment and disposal of a case are extremely favourable when compared to those south of the Border. In cases of fraud, embezzlement and the like, the delays are inevitably distressingly long because of the multiplicity of complications. I shall be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman and give him the figures, which are very encouraging, but which are subject to considerable fluctuation.

Will the Solicitor-General discuss with the Lord Advocate the possible withdrawal of Crown Office circular 1643 and its noisome aspect of compiling a secret national and local register of cases that are not necessarily brought before the courts?

I shall always discuss such matters with my noble Friend, but the document is not a secret document and the register is not a secret register. It is a confidential record. All I can say is that I am rather surprised that a Labour Member should again raise this matter as one of such importance, because when we offered to have a matter-day debate Labour Members declined to have one.