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Criminal Justice System

Volume 226: debated on Wednesday 16 June 1993

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To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what proposals he has to improve the operation of the Scottish criminal justice system.

The first report of the groups which have been reviewing court programming under the chairmanship of Sheriff Principal Gordon Nicholson, QC and Sheriff Graham Cox was published on 11 June. Copies of the report, which contains proposals for improving court programming mainly within the existing legislative framework, have been placed in the House Libraries. Copies have also been sent to the various interests and comments requested by the end of September.The Government have also been considering measures which would involve statutory change and is publishing today a report entitled "Review of Criminal Evidence and Criminal Procedure", together with a consultation paper seeking the public's views on the proposals in the report. Copies of both have also been placed in the House Libraries.The proposals in the report aim to secure a substantial reduction in the time wasted by both civilian and police witnesses in attending court for trials which do not take place and in giving evidence which is not contested. They include pre-trial hearings to ensure cases are ready to go to trial; more active management of the pre-trial period; a new form of disclosure of the prosecution case; and the possibility of reduced sentences for those who plead guilty early. The results would include a better deal for thousands of civilian witnesses and more police time released for other duties. The consultation period will last until 30 September and I look forward to receiving views on the proposals from a wide range of interests.The publication of this report marks the first stage of the process. Later in the year the Government intend to embark on a second round of consultations. This will look at the function and verdicts of the jury in criminal trials, the way in which appeals against conviction and sentence in the criminal courts are dealt with and any matters arising from the report of the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice which have implications for the Scottish criminal justice system. Any proposals for legislative change will be formulated in the light of responses to these two wide-ranging consultation exercises.