Three sheriff courts to test summary criminal case management: The Journal Online

Three sheriff courts are to pilot an innovative approach to test the benefits of stronger judicial case management and earlier engagement with the Crown and defence agents in summary cases.

These pilots, which will take place in Dundee, Hamilton and Paisley, follow other evidence and procedure review initiatives that have led to changes transforming the way evidence is captured from children and vulnerable witnesses through pre-recorded evidence, and the creation of the Lord Justice Clerk’s review group, which is examining how sexual offence cases are conducted in the courts. 

The third strand of the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service Evidence and Procedure Review focused on summary criminal business, promoting radical proposals for the wider use of digital technology, supported by strong case management and clear timescales. Work is underway, through Scottish Government, to develop the capability for evidence in criminal cases to be securely shared digitally across police, COPFS, defence agents and the courts.

The pilots will start in January 2020 and, ahead of future digital and legislative change, will aim to:

  • resolve cases at the earliest opportunity, without the need for a trial being fixed;
  • reduce the need for full disclosure where cases can be resolved;
  • reduce the number of cases called for trial;
  • reduce the number of witnesses unnecessarily called; and
  • preserve trials for cases that cannot be resolved by other means.

The pilots are judicially led by the respective sheriffs principal, with full support and collaboration from SCTS, Police Scotland, the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service, and the Scottish Legal Aid Board. Details of the pilot are set out in a practice note published on the SCTS website. (Click here to view.)

Sheriff Principal Duncan Murray of North Strathclyde, said: “The practice note seeks to give direction to the Crown and defence to support the sheriff to undertake a more active case management role. The pilot will provide an opportunity to assess how more active case management works and how this may be enhanced in the future by legislative change or digital processing. Monitoring of the outcomes achieved in the three courts will provide an evidence base to support future developments.”

The pilots are anticipated to run for 18 months, with continual evaluation taking place. The results of the pilots will inform the next stages of a wider rollout and incorporation of digital evidence sharing.

Click here to find details of the pilot as set out in a Practice Note on the SCTS website.