The Scottish Parliament’s Criminal Justice Committee report into reforming the criminal justice sector, published today, is an important recognition of critical issues facing the sector and the urgency required for solutions, the Law Society of Scotland has said.
The Criminal Justice Committee’s report has made 60 short- and long-term recommendations for reforming the justice sector, covering issues including: the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting court backlog, legal aid, prisons and prison policy, the misuse of drugs, violence against women and girls, victims’ rights and support, and reducing youth offending and alternatives to custody.
Ken Dalling, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “The committee’s report highlights the numerous challenges that the criminal justice sector faces and the Scottish Government must take urgent action to deal with these issues as a matter of priority.
“The committee rightly highlights the backlog of court cases as a key priority. This will take years to clear, yet every delayed trial delays justice for victims and for those accused, particularly those held on remand for extended periods of time awaiting trial. Investment to address the backlog must be directed towards the defence, as well as the prosecution and the courts, or there will simply not be enough resource to work through an increasing volume of cases.
“In addition, the committee rightly criticises the pace of reform to legal aid by the Scottish Government and the need for immediate action on fees. The legal aid system is in crisis, with practitioners being lost every week to the prosecution and other sectors and bar associations withdrawing from the duty schemes. The single root cause of this is a generation of underfunding through stagnant legal aid rates and a failure to match investment in the public sector with funds for those who work on legal aid cases. We have called for an urgent and significant fee uplift and urge the Minister to act now.”
Ken continued: “The ongoing debate over the abolition of the not proven verdict is also noted in the report. We reiterate our view that the fundamental principles of the Scottish criminal justice system must be maintained and any change to the three verdicts system would require a number of other amendments to safeguard against miscarriages of justice.
“We will be looking at the report in full in further detail and look forward to working with the justice committee, government ministers and all those involved in the criminal justice system.”
The findings and recommendations are based upon evidence taken by the Criminal Justice Committee during a series of roundtable sessions between September and November last year. The committee intends to regularly monitor the progress of its recommendations throughout this parliamentary session.