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Last Updated: Friday, 1 April, 2005, 10:50 GMT 11:50 UK
Streamlined court system in place
Coat of arms
The reforms aim to put witnesses at the heart of the court system
Reforms to Scotland's court system will give a better deal to victims and witnesses, the justice minister claims.

Legislation that streamlines the way Scotland's courts operate came into effect on Friday.

The Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act has been billed as the most radical overhaul of the criminal justice system for 20 years.

Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson said witnesses will be at the heart of the reformed system.

Under the act, preliminary hearings are now compulsory in the High Court so judges can ensure both Crown and defence are ready to go to trial.

Instead of the previous system of court "sittings," fixed trial dates have been introduced.

'Speedy trial'

The 110-day time limit in which a person must be put on trial has been extended to allow more time for the defence to prepare.

Under the Vulnerable Witnesses Act, children under the age of 16 have an automatic right to special measures and under 12s will not normally have to come to court to give evidence in sex or violence cases.

There is also greater scope for witnesses to be deemed "vulnerable" and the legislation has scrapped a competence test which had barred some children from giving evidence because they would not pass an initial test on whether they understand the difference between truth and lies.

Victims, witnesses and jurors are at the heart of that service, and we need to ensure their needs are taken into account
Cathy Jamieson
Justice minister

Ms Jamieson said that as well as the High Court changes, reforms were also on the way for non-jury summary courts.

"I am committed to a criminal justice service which punishes the guilty and acquits the innocent, ensuring the right to a fair and speedy trial," she said.

"Victims, witnesses and jurors are at the heart of that service, and we need to ensure their needs are taken into account.

"This commitment underpins our criminal justice reforms and will help deliver a better service for all."

She added: "Together these common sense reforms form a radical, coherent package and represent the most significant overhaul of our criminal justice system in 20 years.

"The task now is for practitioners in the courts to turn important legal reform into positive, practical effect."


SEE ALSO:
'Quick justice' for minor cases
22 Mar 05 |  Scotland
Tough courts 'lift jail numbers'
13 Dec 04 |  Scotland
Bail focus for sentencing body
28 Jun 04 |  Scotland
Court reform is passed by MSPs
28 Apr 04 |  Scotland
District courts 'to be scrapped'
16 Mar 04 |  Scotland
Poor funding 'will hamper reform'
05 Jan 04 |  Scotland
Plans to speed up prosecutions
23 Jan 04 |  Scotland


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