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Sheriffs Principal

Volume 978: debated on Wednesday 6 February 1980

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asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland if he has any plans to meet the sheriffs principal.

I have informal meetings with the sheriffs principal from time to time. I am meeting Sheriff Principal Charles Johnston at Airdrie on 18 February.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his reply. Will he, when he next meets the Sheriff Principal, consider with him the number of cases that have appeared before sheriffs in which jurors and witnesses have been called and then the accused has pleaded guilty?

This is a really difficult problem. I understand that in Edinburgh almost 80 per cent. of accused persons plead at the second diet when represented by solicitors or counsel. In Aberdeen the figure is about 50 per cent.

It is a monstrous imposition on witnesses on jurors. I hope that the legal profession will find a solution and will not abandon its duty in this matter.

Will the Solicitor-General say what proportion of the 80 per cent. and 50 per cent. that he has mentioned are legally aided? Does the Solicitor-General accept that one of the major causes of concern is the number of clients pleading guilty at the second diet, especially in legally aided cases?

That is my concern. A large amount of legal aid and public funds is spent because witnesses and jurors are called and the client then pleads guilty at the last moment. I consider that that is a grave abuse. It is something that I wish to prevent. However, we must all remember that it is difficult to persuade a man to be executed before the day of judgment.