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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 April, 2004, 16:40 GMT 17:40 UK
Court reform is passed by MSPs
Courtroom
The changes are designed to improve justice
MSPs have voted overwhelmingly to pass legislation to streamline the way Scotland's courts operate.

The Criminal Procedure (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill is designed to improve the experience of victims, witnesses and jurors.

It will extend the 110-day time limit in which a person must be put on trial.

The bill will also allow trials to continue in the absence of the accused in certain circumstances. MSPs passed the bill by 112 votes to nil.

High court system

Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson said the legislation was designed to put witnesses, jurors and victims at the heart of the system.

The bill, based largely on Lord Bonomy's High Court review, will overhaul Scotland's over-burdened High Court system.

It will promote greater disclosure of information between Crown and defence before trials, allowing sentence reductions for early "realistic" pleas and requiring preliminary hearings to inform judges of both sides' state of readiness.

Sheriffs' custodial sentencing powers are also being increased from three to five years to allow some cases currently heard by High Court judges to be dealt with in the lower courts.

Cathy Jamieson said witnesses would be put at the heart of the system

During debate on the bill, parliament added further safeguards to plans to allow solemn trials to continue without defendants in court when they have absconded.

The executive says the move could prevent vulnerable witnesses and victims from the added stress of having trials abandoned simply because a defendant absconds midway through.

It initially proposed allowing the entire trial to take place in their absence if they failed to attend at the very start.

But faced with overwhelming opposition, ministers backed Stage 2 amendments to ensure defendants must have heard some of the opening Crown evidence against them before a trial could be continued without them.


SEE ALSO:
Absent trials move is ruled out
17 Mar 04  |  Scotland
Minister defends absent trials
25 Feb 04  |  Scotland
MSPs reject absent trial proposal
19 Feb 04  |  Scotland
Plans to speed up prosecutions
23 Jan 04  |  Scotland


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