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Criminal Trials (Delays)

Volume 980: debated on Wednesday 5 March 1980

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asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland how many cases on indictment have taken more than 12 months to come to trial in the last two years.

As at 22 October 1979 there were 15 cases on indictment which had taken more than 12 months to come to trial. However, I am having our records checked and once up-to-date information is available I shall write to my hon. Friend.

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that these statistics are a disgrace to the legal system in Scotland and an unfair imposition on accused persons? Is it not the case that there is provision, in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, to prevent this from happening, and is he not surprised that, apparently, the Labour Party in Scotland is opposing this legislation?

I am glad to tell my hon. Friend that what he describes as a disgrace has been greatly improved since we came to office in May. My noble and learned Friend and I have done all that we can to overcome the backlog of cases which has been greatly reduced. Clause 14(1) of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill will make a statutory bar to prosecution of persons after 12 months from the date on which they first appear on petition. That is a great and equitable advance, in parallel with the 110-day rule, which is an immemorial feature of our law.

Since indictments are dependent on arrests being carried out, and in view of the number of outstanding murder inquiries into the deaths of young women, will the Solicitor-General tell us whether he has considered inviting the Scottish crime squad to co-operate with local police forces in the three regions which are currently conducting investigations into these cases?

We are greatly concerned about the number of recent homicides in Scotland. It is for the Secretary of State, and for the chief constables to deploy their forces as they feel necessary, but I am certain that the police in Scotland will do everything that they can to investigate and clear up these awful crimes.

In view of the injustice that can occur to people under indictments because of this kind of delay, would it not be more intelligent to use the available money to improve the procedures and organisation of the courts, instead of spending it on expensive fees for advocates, Lord or otherwise?

As I understand it, those are not alternatives. Scotland can stand-up to any country in the world for the speed with which it brings to trial those whom it acc uses.