HC Deb 17 June 1981 vol 6 cc1021-2
38. Mr. Peter Fraser

asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland what delays are being experienced in both the sheriff courts and High Court as a result of industrial action by court staff.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

The strike action is confined to the courts in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Since the beginning of the strike, 28 High Court cases have been delayed, but 25 of these are now being dealt with. In Glasgow, 150 sheriff and jury trials have not been dealt with and approximately 5,000 summary cases have not been heard. In Edinburgh, 100 sheriff and jury trials have not been dealt with, but the sheriff court is dealing with one-third to one-half of its normal summary criminal work load. There are 2,000 cases awaiting summary diets both in Glasgow and in Edinburgh.

Mr. Fraser

While the Scottish courts administration is to be complimented on its efforts to deal with the backlog, may I ask my hon. and learned Friend and take the opportunity to point out that, in the main, it is members of the public who are suffering from the action? Does he agree that, as a direct consequence of the action, the administration of justice is being blocked, and, at the end of the day, it will be the public at large who suffer?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's conclusion. The public and justice are suffering, which is extremely unfair.

Mr. Millan

Is not the situation a public scandal and an affront to Scotland, when thousands of cases are being dropped and many thousands more being delayed, with considerable prejudice to civil rights? Was it not the hon. and learned Gentleman who in 1979 demanded legislation from the Labour Government right from the first day? Does he recollect that the Second Reading of the Administration of Justice (Emergency Provisions) (Scotland) Bill was taken less than a month after the 1979 strike began, yet this action has gone on for three months and the Government have done nothing? Is not that particularly ironic, when the Conservative Party is supposed to stand for law and order? Do we not need emergency legislation and other Government action to bring the strike to an end?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

We are indeed the party which stands for law and order. As I understand it, the right hon. Member stands for those who are disrupting law and order. The present position is clear. Emergency legislation would have no effect other than to build up a backlog of summary cases. The only way to solve the matter is for those who have the responsibility to discharge it and go back to work.

Mr. Henderson

Despite the industrial action in the courts, can my hon. and learned Friend find out whether awards for compensation would have been made by the courts, but for the fact that the offenders concerned were on probation? Will he then consider whether some change can be made in that aspect of the law?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I shall look into the matter and write to my hon. Friend.