Collaborative work between the COPFS and the Law Society has been carried out to further improve the pre-intermediate diet meeting (PIDM) process.
At the conclusion of a cross-justice conference held earlier this month, it was agreed that there would be closer collaborative working, improved communication, and enhanced guidance in relation to the PIDM procedure.
To take this forward, a meeting, which brought together prosecutors and defence lawyers, was convened by South Strathclyde, Dumfries and Galloway Sheriff Principal Aisha Anwar on Friday, 23 April at Hamilton Sheriff Court.
North Strathclyde Sheriff Principal Duncan Murray, representatives of the Law Society of Scotland, SCTS, COPFS, and defence practitioners all took part in the event setting out the progress made and identifying the further work required in a bid to make the new arrangements work.
Sheriff Principal Anwar said: “It has been encouraging to see the collaboration between the Crown and the Law Society on the improvements to the Booking App for PIDMs. Defence agents have provided constructive feedback and the Crown, having taken such feedback on board, has made improvements within a short timescale. The functionality to allow administrative staff to book PIDMs is currently being piloted. It is recognised that this has the capacity to make the process far simpler for defence agents. PIDMs provide a real opportunity to create efficiencies in the administration of summary crime which will be of benefit to the profession, to complainers, witnesses and accused persons in the long term.
“It is also encouraging to see a continuing commitment on the part of the Crown and the Law Society to work together. Undoubtedly, early engagement by way a Working Group on the development of the Crown’s online Defence Agent Service will lead to better outcomes.”
Booking App improvements
As the result of a review by the Crown Office and feedback received from solicitors using the system, the Booking App used to schedule PIDM appointments has been updated to make it simpler in the following ways:
• The app now displays the available service for each sheriff court, showing both the PIDM and the related intermediate diet date.
• Once the diet is selected, the available slots for the chosen day will appear.
• It is no longer necessary to insert the details of either the intermediate diet or the trial date.
• There is now no mandatory requirement to enter data in the ‘additional information’ field. That step could not be completed in the previous version without at least one character being inserted. There is however still obvious value in adding relevant information (such as the nature of any pled/issues with disclosure to be discussed).
These changes were demonstrated at Friday’s meeting and were recognised as a welcome improvement.
Registration and booking by administrative staff
The Crown was also asked to investigate:
• whether the 2-factor identification process was necessary for the Booking App
• how log-in could be made easier
• accessibility for defence administrative staff.
Multi factor authentication (MFA) is a key security requirement to ensure the integrity of the COPFS infrastructure. It is a regular requirement for Microsoft products and a necessary step in the booking process. This cannot be changed.
The Crown has reviewed the licensing and security implications and has authorised some nominated non-legal staff as part of a pilot exercise. The registration process for those individuals has been completed successfully and further testing of the booking process, and related updated guidance, is underway this week.
A further update will be provided next week at the conclusion of the testing exercise. It is anticipated that administrative staff will be able to book PIDMs for defence agents following the pilot, subject to the approval of individual applications. A go-live date will be confirmed.
The Crown continues to look at ways of improving the Booking App, including the potential to book multiple slots at the same time, rather than having to renew the process. There are currently technical restraints with this aspect. The Crown is discussing these with Microsoft representatives in order to identify the scope for improvement in the short or longer term. Solicitors are currently able, of course, to identify multiple cases for the same slot, or over multiple slots, by inserting the details of the other cases that are to be discussed in the ‘additional information’ field.
There is currently no option to pre-populate solicitors’ details in the Booking App. Some browsers, however, may remember the details that have been added previously and these may display as they are being entered.
COPFS guidance on the PIDM booking procedure is available on its website. This is updated regularly and a new version will be launched next week at the conclusion of the pilot exercise. COPFS is committed to continuous improvement of the guidance and has arranged to work with nominated defence representatives to make it as helpful and clear as possible for its users.
Defence Agents Service
Finally, it was agreed that a new Crown and Defence Working Group would be set up to enable the Crown to share details of its proposed online Defence Agent Service and to receive feedback from defence practitioners about their proposals as they are being developed.
These developments reflect the considerable effort that is being made on a cross-agency basis to improve the new PIDM procedure.
These efforts will continue and will be underpinned by ongoing engagement and communication.