Practitioners should be aware, fully informed and ready for implementation of part 3 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016. Sections 78 to 83 inclusive radically reform solemn procedure in the sheriff court. The Scottish Government has now confirmed dates of commencement in relation to this part of the Act.
Put simply, the reforms will bring sheriff and jury procedure in line with High Court procedure. An accused will be indicted to appear at a first diet only. Prior to that diet there will be a statutory requirement for the Crown and defence to communicate. The expectation is that communication will be meaningful and joint effort made to reach agreement on matters wherever possible, thus focusing issues or areas of dispute for trial purposes. It will be for the court to ensure that parties are ready for trial, and only once that has been determined to the satisfaction of the court, will the court assign a trial diet. (Time limits for trial still require to be observed.)
Key dates have been earmarked for implementation purposes between 29 May and 28 August 2017. Implementation in this way does mean that transitional provisions will be laid before Parliament to enable the following timetable.
For all cases indicted on or after 29 May 2017:
- There will require to be 29 clear days between raising the indictment and the first diet.
- Where clients are on bail, a first diet must be within 11 months of when the case was continued for further examination, and the trial within 12 months of that date. For custody cases, all first diets must be within 110 days of full committal, and trials within 140 days of that date.
- The Crown and defence will require to communicate with each other within 14 days of service of the indictment, and submit their written record two working days before the first diet.
For cases indicted between 29 May and 30 July 2017:
This is the main transitional period, and will allow COPFS either to indict cases assigning a first and trial diet (provided both diets can be assigned prior to 28 August) or to indict cases to a first diet only (where the first diet is set on or after 31 July).
From 31 July 2017:
As from this date, COPFS will have to indict all cases to a first diet only. At first diet the court will assign a trial diet once it is established that parties are ready to proceed to trial.
From 28 August 2017:
The new solemn procedure will be fully operational. All trial diets will thereafter be assigned by the court. Once the trial diet has been assigned it can be continued, without calling in court, for up to four days after the date assigned for trial. At the end of that period, however, the case must call, be adjourned or be discontinued.
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