HC Deb 26 October 1977 vol 936 cc1434-6
24. Mr. Canavan

asked the Lord Advocate when he next expects to make an official visit to a Scottish court.

The Lord Advocate (Mr. Ronald King Murray)

During the Summer Recess I visited the sheriff courts at Glasgow, Linlithgow, Perth and Elgin. I have plans for further official visits in the near future.

Mr. Canavan

Before his next court visit, will my right hon. and learned Friend consider amending the existing court procedure which allows a Crown Counsel and a policeman to make unfounded allegations about an innocent witness without giving him the opportunity of defending himself or clearing his name? Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that this anomaly in Scots law has caused considerable distress to my constituent Mr. Edward Topalian?

The Lord Advocate

My hon. Friend has made some criticisms of present procedures which have to be taken in the context that it would be quite wrong to allow any artificial doctrines to interfere with the overriding public interest in criminal trials being fairly and properly conducted. If my hon. Friend has in mind the matter about which he wrote to me, I must tell him that this is now the subject of an appeal which has been lodged and is accordingly sub judice. I do not think that I should comment on it.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman visit the Dundee Sheriff Court and particularly the office of the Deputy Crown Agent, who has been there for several months, and indicate what action is likely to be taken on the intensive investigations carried out in Dundee under the supervision of the Deputy Crown Agent?

The Lord Advocate

The Deputy Crown Agent is no longer in Dundee, and the report on the matter to which the hon. Gentleman refers is being considered by Crown Counsel. As the report runs to 18 volumes, its assessment will take some time.

25. Mr. Teddy Taylor

asked the Lord Advocate what progress he has made in easing the congestion in the courts in Glasgow.

The Lord Advocate

On 18th August 1977 I made an official visit to Glasgow and talked with many of those concerned with the administration of the courts there. As a result of this, certain matters are currently being looked at. The staff of the Procurator-Fiscal at Glasgow is now at the full complement presently permitted.

Mr. Taylor

Does the Lord Advocate agree, following his visit, that conditions in the Glasgow Sheriff Court are deplorable and that the staff and the buildings are unable to cope with the increase in crime that has taken place? Can he say whether the conditions in which the staff have to work are consistent with the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act? Is he not greatly concerned about the six-month delay in dealing with summary cases? Is he satisfied that the conditions for witnesses, both for the defence and for the prosecution, who have to sit together in appalling conditions are conducive to justice?

The Lord Advocate

I should require notice of the hon. Gentleman's first question, though I do not think that it would be proper for him to put it to me. In regard to the general question of accommodation, I agree that this is a most important matter. As regards delays in the administration of justice in the Glasgow Sheriff Court and the district courts, although these are not subject to the same delays, the problem is caused by the shortage of courtroom accommodation. This is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, and he is planning early additions to the accommodation.

Mr. Lipton

Would it not help to ease congestion in the courts in Glasgow if there were less criminality in Cathcart?

The Lord Advocate

If there were a lower rate of crime in the whole of Scotland, it would be to the public advantage.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Is the Lord Advocate aware of the considerable dissatisfaction of many procurators-fiscal in Glasgow with the overload of work that they are given and the inadequate accommodation in the sheriff court? Will he look at this matter in depth and sympathetically?

The Lord Advocate