HL Deb 24 February 1983 vol 439 cc825-6

3.15 p.m.

Lord McCluskey

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they consider that substantial improvements in the administration, and cost, of criminal justice in Scotland could be achieved by providing the defence with advance copies of the Crown precognition in jury cases.

The Lord Advocate (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)

My Lords, the Government have considered this Question. As a result, we consider that such a practice would not result in substantial improvements in administration and cost. However, for the past three years procurators fiscal have been under instruction to make available on request to defence solicitors statements of witnesses whose evidence is regarded as formal or technical and to discuss the evidence available to the Crown.

Lord McCluskey

My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that his reply will cause surprise among practitioners in Scotland, albeit practitioners in Scotland are conscious of the fact that the introduction of such a practice could give rise to minor problems? Does he not accept that they strongly believe that it would enable defence lawyers both to avoid unnecessary and expensive preparatory work and also to enter into agreements with the Crown so as to reduce the areas of dispute at the trial, thus achieving real and substantial savings in costs, particularly to the legal aid fund? Does he agree that such savings could be achieved? Does he not think that it is time, then, to introduce an experiment by the Crown and take a fresh initiative by introducing this practice experimentally in the High Court?

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

My Lords, I am naturally in entire agreement with the noble and learned Lord's wish to dispense with unnecessary and expensive preparatory work, particularly by defence lawyers. However, the noble and learned Lord will remember that this matter was fairly fully considered by the Thomson Committee in their second report and the instruction which has been given to procurators fiscal is intended to get the benefits of the practice without the difficulties to which he has referred. Finally, may I say that we are keeping this matter very much under review. I hope that in due course we shall be able to issue a consultation paper setting out the difficulties and possibly, by study of them generally in Scotland, advancing consideration of the problem.