New initiative to reduce unnecessary court hearings, to be piloted in three courts

Sep 01, 2022

A new initiative to manage summary cases in Scotland is to be piloted in Dundee, Hamilton and Paisley Sheriff Courts from Monday 5 September 2022.

The Summary Case Management (SCM) pilot seeks to reduce the number of unnecessary hearings at summary level, which contributed to over 400,000 witness citations last year.  It will achieve this by facilitating early disclosure of evidence and early judicial case management.

Key evidence will be available to be released to the defence prior to or at the first calling in all domestic abuse cases.  Specified disclosure material can be requested where it is considered that such early disclosure may make a material difference to a plea or the early resolution of issues in all non domestic abuse cases.

Unlike the Evidence and Procedure Review Pilot, which the SCM Pilot replaces, in order to minimise the burden on defence agents, the defence will no longer require to lodge written records.  These are replaced by a judicial case management note.  Legal aid changes have been made to support the pilot.

In the 12 months to March 2022, there were over 36,000 not guilty pleas in summary sheriff court cases; that represents over 70% of pleas entered. In the same period, only 5503 complaints were called where evidence was led.

More than 400,000 witness citations were issued for sheriff summary trials during 2021/22, over half of which were for police officers.  Civilian witnesses, professional witnesses, health care professionals and scientists were also impacted.

The aim of the initiative is to achieve:

  • a decrease in the number of witness citations issued;
  • an increase in the percentage of cases resolved at the first appearance;
  • an increase in the percentage of cases resolved at the Continued Without Plea diet;
  • a reduction in the number of trial diets at which no evidence is led.

While domestic abuse cases have been highlighted for this distinct approach it is anticipated that the lessons learned may lead to the same approach being adopted in other types of summary sheriff court criminal business.

Sheriff Principal Aisha Anwar, who has been leading the development of the SCM Pilot said: “The overall aim of this pilot is to reduce the number of cases that are set down for trial unnecessarily and reduce the volume of late pleas of guilty and late decisions on discontinuation.  

The automatic provision of key evidence in domestic abuse cases and ‘specified disclosure’ of material in any other case where that may assist in discussions, should put the defence in a significantly different position from the early stage of the case.  It will allow the defence to engage more meaningfully with the Crown on both plea and resolution, failing which, on the agreement of evidence.  It should lead to efficiencies for defence agents and for the Crown.  For accused persons, there is the opportunity for matters to be resolved at the earliest possible stage in the process.

Cross justice collaboration has been essential to the design and development of the new pilot and I thank all those involved for so willingly providing their time”. 

John Logue, Deputy Crown Agent Local Court said: “The pilot is a multi-agency collaboration which will reduce the burden and inconvenience of trial preparation on victims and witnesses.

“COPFS is pleased to have been involved from the outset in the development of this initiative and we look forward to its expansion to every Sheriff Court once it has been evaluated.”

Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Kenny MacDonald, Criminal Justice Services Division, said: “We are working closely with our criminal justice partners on the development and delivery of the Summary Case Management pilot which Police Scotland fully supports.  We hope this will bring greater efficiencies to summary trials, reduce the number of witnesses cited for court and enable matters to be resolved at the earliest possible stage in the process for the benefit of all parties.”

The pilots are anticipated to run for 18 months, with continual evaluation taking place.

The full report can be viewed here.   

A FAQ document has also been produced to help answer any questions about the pilot.

The Lord Justice General has issued a Practice Note to support the pilot 

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