Modernisation of Summary Criminal Justice in Scotland

Sep 20, 2017

Following a series of public roadshows, the Justice Board is convinced that the opportunities and enthusiasm exist to bring about substantial modernisation to summary criminal justice in Scotland.

The Proposals contained in the earlier SCTS report: A New Model for Summary Criminal Court Procedure, were discussed and tested in the roadshows attended by defence agents, voluntary organisations, the judiciary, COPFS and court staff, other justice organisations and members of the public.

The core proposals in the model are

  • Pre-trial procedures should take place as part of a digital case management process. Court hearings are only held to address unresolved issues with strong judicial case oversight to focus the trial on those areas of dispute.
  • There is no automatic setting of an intermediate diet and trial diet on a not guilty plea and witnesses are cited only where a trial diet is ready and likely to proceed.
  • Where a witness is cited, a digital update system keeps the witness informed and minimises inconvenience where possible
  • In appropriate cases where guilty pleas are tendered, sentencing could be conducted digitally without the need for the appearance of the accused in court.

Eric McQueen, Chief Executive, SCTS said: “The proposals put forward in our earlier report were radical in promoting wider use of digital technology, supported by strong case management and clear timescales. Through the public roadshows there has been good debate and a wide range of views expressed which set out the opportunities and challenges. These are captured in the report published today – “Follow Up Report to the New Model for Summary Criminal Court Procedure”.

“Taking all of those views into account, the cross - justice working group who developed the proposals, is of the opinion that with appropriate amendment of the original proposals, there is scope to develop the model for potential legislation and implementation. This will include further consideration of the financial as well as procedural implications of moving towards a more digitally enabled system.  On behalf of the Justice Board, SCTS will be seeking the support of Scottish Government to consider wider public consultation to help shape future legislation change.”

The proposals align with the work Scottish Government is already leading regarding digital evidence and the newly published “Justice Strategy for Scotland”.

However, in advance of any legislation we can start this journey early next year by testing out some of the ideas and principles. These are likely to include the development and  piloting of a practice note for Summary Criminal Cases introducing strong judicial case management,  encouraging earlier engagement between parties to identify those matters in dispute in the case and potentially only fixing trial diets when prosecution and defence are sufficiently prepared and the issues requiring proof have been properly focussed.



Note for editors

  1. Less serious criminal offences are prosecuted on summary complaint before a court of summary jurisdiction – that is a sheriff, summary sheriff or justice of the peace sitting alone (without a jury).  In 2016/17 there were just over 112,000 summary complaints raised in Scottish courts.   
  2. The Follow-Up Report released today is the latest in a series of papers under the Evidence and Procedure Review. The proposition paper “A New Model for Summary Criminal Court Procedure” was published in February 2017; the “Evidence and Procedure Review: Next Steps” paper on 26 February 2016; and “The Evidence and Procedure Review Report” on 13 March 2015.
  3. Details of the Evidence and Procedure Review are  available at
  4. The Justice Board for Scotland leads the justice organisations in delivering the outcomes of Justice in Scotland: Vision and Priorities through a collaborative and proactive approach -
  5. The working group who developed the proposals included the SCTS, Police Scotland, Members of the judiciary, COPFS, SLAB, and the Law Society of Scotland. 

Right-hand Menu