§ Lord McCluskey
asked Her Majesty's Government:
What written or oral instructions are issued to Advocates Depute regarding the initiation and conduct of discussions with the defence in solemn criminal trials with a view to obtaining reduced pleas, i.e. pleas to lesser crimes than those indicted, and when were such instructions so issued or amended.
§ The Lord Advocate (Lord Mackay of Clashfern):
No formal instructions of this type have been issued to Advocates Depute. Instructions were, however given to Procurators Fiscal in May 1976 regarding the acceptance of reduced pleas prior to the start of a trial. In terms of these instructions, before accepting a reduced plea, the Procurator Fiscal Depute must, where possible, consult both the Depute who originally marked the case for prosecution and a senior colleague. In certain cases. Crown Counsel's agreement may be sought.
In December 1979 I had an instruction issued to Procurators Fiscal encouraging early consultation between the defence and prosecution in an endeavour to accelerate pleas of guilty in whole or in part to avoid the inconvenience of late changes of plea and also to obtain Minutes of Admission in respect of matters not in dispute to release certain witnesses from having to attend Court to give evidence. These arrangements were publicised in legal periodicals at the time.
Advocates Depute are aware of these instructions and apply the same criteria in the course of their duties. However, the system is designed to encourage early discussions between defence solicitors and procurators fiscal in solemn as well as summary cases.
In January of this year I instructed Crown Counsel that no decision to drop proceedings altogether in any case of murder or rape should be taken before the hearing of evidence has begun, without the question being referred to me for decision. Where Advocates Depute are offered reduced pleas in such cases prior to the trial they refer the matter either to myself or the Solicitor-General whenever possible, giving their recommendation. In those instances where a reduced plea in a case of this type is offered at a late stage and neither of the Law Officers is available, the Advocate Depute must exercise his own professional judgment.