HC Deb 11 February 1981 vol 998 cc857-8
36. Mr. Peter Fraser

asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland what increase there has been in the number of High Court sittings in Edinburgh in the last 12 months.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland (Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn)

In 1979, the High Court sat at Edinburgh on 19 occasions for the purpose of hearing criminal trials and on 25 occasions as the Court of Criminal Appeal. The corresponding figures for 1980 were 22 and 29 respectively, but the court days in 1979 were only 74 and in 1980 were 108.

Mr. Fraser

Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that that is a quite unacceptable increase in the number of days spent in the criminal courts in Scotland? On the Edinburgh side, is that not something of a failure to indicate how serious the problem is? Is he aware that if one looks at the figures for the Glasgow High Court one will see that the increase in the number of trials and days spent in court have been significantly greater?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

Yes, I agree. No one is more anxious than I am to demonstrate how serious the criminal situation is. In Glasgow, the number of court days in 1979 was 269, and it went up in 1980 to 338. There is a large increase in the incidence of crime and it is something that we are determined to master. I hope that as a result of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act we shall succeed.

Mr. Dewar

I congratulate the Solicitor-General on answering the question which the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Fraser) meant to ask but did not ask. Is it not strange that the crime figures are rising so fast under a Conservative Government, who stood on such a blatant and shameless law and order platform? Will the hon. and learned Gentleman look not just at the number of sittings but at the organisation of High Court sittings to try to get away from the present ludicrous situation—with which he will be familiar—in which it is impossible to tell when a case will start, whether it will be delayed, or whether it will be brought forward, with the resultant inconvenience to solicitors, counsel, members of the public, witnesses and jurymen and at an enormous cost to the public purse in terms of legal aid and waiting days?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

No one is more anxious than I am to prevent inconvenience to witnesses, solicitors and judges. I think that I have reversed the order of inconvenience mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. I want to make it absolutely clear that under the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act there are now provisions which enable those who are instructed to take instructions to act on those instructions and to give timeous pleas which will prevent the attendance of witnesses and inconvenience. If solicitors are responsible in that matter it will make a great difference and result in a great saving.

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