HC Deb 13 December 1978 vol 960 cc655-7
36. Mr. Gordon Wilson

asked the Lord Advocate if he is satisfied with the provision of sheriff court facilities and staff in relation to the needs of the Procurator Fiscal service.

The Lord Advocate

Sheriff court accommodation for the Procurator Fiscal service is in many cases overcrowded. Alternative premises are being obtained or sought. Staffing of the Procurator Fiscal service is currently almost up to establishment.

Mr. Wilson

Will the Lord Advocate consult the 1977 digest of criminal statistics for Scotland? If he does, he will see that there were substantial delays in prosecutions, particularly those relating to indictable offences. Will he say when those resources, which have been promised for years, will be made available for the sheriff court buildings?

The Lord Advocate

I am in a dilemma, because the hon. Gentleman put down a Question relating to sheriff court facilities. In order to answer his supplementary question, one has to look at the whole spectrum of criminal statistics for the High Court and all other courts, district courts as well as sheriff courts. He implied that money had not been spent and that activity had not taken place. I refute that entirely. There has been considerable expansion during the current year of provisions in all respects to cope with the blacklog of criminal cases.

Mr. Dewar

There is a provision in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill that if an indictment case is not brought to court within 12 months of the first appearance on petition the matter shall fall. Does the Lord Advocate think that the present staffing of the Procurator Fiscal service will allow that to be implemented?

The Lord Advocate

I am making due allowance for the fact that this will create problems for us. I hope that by bringing the current establishment up to full strength it will be possible to manage with very little increase in staff.

Mr. Fairbairn

Would it not have been wise, in view of these pressures, to have enacted in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, or still to do so, the recommendation in the Thomson report that the sheriff court should have an increased jurisdiction to sentence for three years and that there should be no remit for sentence so that cases which should never go there in the first place are thereafter remitted to a forum which has not heard them? If he is short of space, would not the Lord Advocate have done better by knocking down the left wing of a listed building in Dundee?

The Lord Advocate

I shall not make any comment on the last part of the hon. and learned Gentleman's question. In regard to the first part, it is fair to say that there are many recommendations in the Thomson report which have to be considered along with other priorities. As he knows, the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill hopes to strike a reasonable balance between the various provisions to produce a package that will bring immediate results in the short term. I take note of the point that he makes, with which I have some sympathy.