HC Deb 02 July 1982 vol 26 cc397-8W
Mr. Gordon Wilson

asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland what progress is being made towards reduction in waiting times for trials in the High Court of Justiciary, the sheriff courts and the district courts; and what is the average waiting time for trial in each class of court.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

The period between receipt of a police report and the trial diet varies considerably depending on the type of charge, the court in which the proceedings are instituted and whether the accused is in custody or on bail.

There is generally no significant delay in cases of serious crime, and the time taken to process a case through the courts from the first appearance to the trial diet ranges from two and a half to nine months with the average being about five months. Occasionally, very complicated cases crop up which take a very long time to prepare. These usually relate to fraud or embezzlement. With regard to summary crime, the average time between the police reporting to the procurator fiscal and the calling of that case in court is two months. If there is a plea of not guilty and a trial, the time between calling and trial diet is between one and five months.

By way of illustration the figures provided by the Procurator Fiscal at Dundee for May 1982 are as follows:

Sheriff Summary Criminal Court Approximate period between receipt of police report and first court appearance—10 weeks.

Approximate period between pleading diet and trial diet in which the accused person is—

in custody—three weeks;

not in custody—four to five weeks.

District Court Approximate period between receipt of police report and first court appearance—11–12 weeks.

Approximate period between pleading diet and trial diet in which the accused person is—

in custody—N/A;

not in custody—seven weeks.

Solemn Cases Approximate period; between receipt of sheriff and jury instruction and trial diet—six to eight weeks.

In the High Court the approximate period between full committal and trial in non-custody cases from Dundee for the period from 1 August 1981 to 31 June 1982 was 129 days. For Scotland as a whole the approximate period in custody cases was 88 days.

The Transport Bill presently being considered by Parliament provides for an extended fixed penalty system for minor road traffic offences. This will reduce the number of traffic cases before the courts. The Criminal Justice Bill also being considered by Parliament increases the powers of the district court. This provision will reduce the burden on the sheriff court, which is at present the busiest court.

The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980 made provision for the prevention of delay in trials once cases are brought to court by providing that an accused should not be tried on indictment for any offence unless such trials commence within a period of 12 months from the first appearance of that accused on petition in respect of that offence. Where an accused is remanded in custody in a summary case the trial must be commenced within 40 clays after the bringing of the complaint in court. In solemn cases an accused may not be detained for a total period of more than 110 days, unless the trial of the case is commenced within that period.

The 1980 Act also made provision for the court to fix intermediate dates to establish inter alia whether an accused intends to adhere to the plea of not guilty. This should reduce the number of cases where the accused pleads guilty on the morning of the trial and result in less delay in disposing of those cases which have to proceed to trial.