Scotland's district courts could be abolished as part of a major shake-up of the summary justice system.
There are moves to overhaul the summary justice system
The plan is one of 100 recommendations which appeared in a report by Sheriff Principal John McInnes.
He was asked to undertake the review following delays, adjournments and wasting of witness and police time.
Summary justice makes up 96% of all criminal cases in Scotland, but delays saw 17,000 cases dropped in 2002, according to the most recent figures.
More serious summary cases are heard in the sheriff court, while lower-level
crimes are disposed of in district courts.
The measures, published on Tuesday, include:
- the creation of a single unified summary court, managed by the Scottish Court Service
- an all-professional judiciary consisting of sheriffs and new "summary sheriffs"
- considerably enhanced sentencing powers to allow summary courts to impose sentences of one year imprisonment and a maximum £20,000 fine
- a considerable expansion of the use of alternatives to prosecution - for example, the introduction of formal police warnings and greater use by police of fixed penalty notices and fiscal fines
- the introduction of a new fiscal compensation order designed to ensure victims of offending behaviour can be directly compensated by the perpetrator in appropriate circumstances.
The report also makes a number of recommendations aimed at improving the collection and enforcement of fines.
But the most controversial move to abolish district courts would see Scotland's 700 justices of the peace removed.
The report said there was a "divergence of view" on the lay justices plan and two members of the committee, Sheriff Brian Lockhart and Mrs Helen Murray, issued a "note of dissent" on the issue.
'Simple but effective'
Sheriff Principal McInnes said: "I believe that our recommendations, taken as a whole, represent a good package of solutions to the range of problems within the summary justice system in Scotland.
"They represent a major step forward in creating a modern, efficient summary justice system, suitable for Scotland and its people.
"The emphasis is on simple but effective processes which will retain and, I hope, enhance the confidence of the public and take proper account of the needs of victims and witnesses."
A four-month consultation period into the report is expected to be launched,
during which time all interested parties will be encouraged to give their views
on the McInnes committee's recommendations.