HC Deb 04 May 1983 vol 42 cc228-9
34. Mr. Ancram

asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland if he is satisfied that the time of advocates-depute is used as efficiently as possible.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland (Mr. Peter Fraser)

Yes. There are 12 advocates-depute, that number having remained constant since April 1981. Since then their work load has markedly increased with no deterioration in the service provided by them and I am satisfied that their time is used as efficiently as possible.

Mr. Ancram

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that answer. May I ask whether he has ever calculated the amount of time spent by advocates-depute in preparing cases and attending at the High Court for trials that do not take place owing to last-minute pleas of guilty? Is he satisfied that the procedure cannot be altered, where appropriate, so that pleas of guilty can be heard at an earlier stage, thereby saving the time of advocates-depute and public money?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I cannot make detailed calculations on this, but a great deal of time is wasted. In view of the timetables introduced by the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act, giving 29 clear days from the time that the indictment has to be served for the trial, there are considerable opportunities for those instructed for the defence to look into the matter and to take their client's instructions and, if they want to, as my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate has made clear, discuss the case with the prosecution.

Mr. Dewar

Has the Solicitor-General noted the recent Appeal Court decision that allowed, or upheld, an extension of the 110-day rule when the extension was required because the Crown had taken a calculated risk, as it was described, by putting down the trial right at the end of the 110-day period? Is that a practice of which the Solicitor-General approves? Does it reflect difficulties in the administration and a shortage of advocates-depute, and does the hon. and learned Gentleman share the widespread concern that this decision has undermined safeguards surrounding the 110-day rule put into the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I am not concerned about that. If the hon. Gentleman cares to read what the Lord Justice-General had to say about it, he will see that he said that the critical factor was the expected duration of the case ahead of the one that went on appeal. That was expected to last for one and a half days, but lasted for five. In those circumstances, the Lord Justice-General made it clear that there had been no lack of due diligence on the part of the prosecution and accordingly allowed the case. It is our intention, as far as possible, always to temper the 110-day rule. If the hon. Gentleman looks through the judgment, he will see that the Lord Justice-General made it clear that only in exceptional circumstances would extension be permitted.

Mr. Robert Hughes

I appreciate that a convicted prisoner charged with another offence is not covered by the 110-day rule. However, will the Solicitor-General accept that for the prisoner awaiting trial in those circumstances, when 110 days have long since passed and he has not been brought to trial, it is a difficult time? The prisoner is entitled to justice as much as anybody else, as he is innocent of the charge until proved guilty.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

The 110-day rule in Scotland means that we have a tighter timetable to bring people to trial in criminal prosecutions than anywhere else in the world. It is only in exceptional circumstances that any extension is allowed. Apart from the 110-day rule, as hon. Members will know, the other timetable provisions of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act make it even more difficult for the Crown to step out of the timetable.