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Last Updated: Saturday, 21 May, 2005, 23:02 GMT 00:02 UK
Court reform 'making difference'
Coat of arms
Court reforms have been hailed a success by the executive
Changes introduced last month aimed at streamlining High Court procedures are already proving successful, Scottish Executive figures have claimed.

More than 1,000 witnesses - who would normally have been expected to be in court - have not had to turn up.

The Law Society of Scotland said the reforms had only been made possible through the hard work of the legal profession and the courts.

They warned they would be kept under review to ensure continued progress.

The most significant feature of the overhaul brought in six weeks ago was the introduction of a preliminary hearing in advance of any trial.

'Speedy trial'

Legal matters - which often delay trials - could be dealt with and uncontentious evidence agreed, while the accused could make a plea.

Since the reforms were launched, 34% of the cases which came to the High Court saw guilty pleas entered.

Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson said victims of serious crime, witnesses and potential jurors have avoided the stress of a High Court trial.

Cathy Jamieson
Ms Jamieson said victims were at the heart of the system

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

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

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.

Ms Jamieson said at the start of the shake-up: "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.

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


SEE ALSO:
Streamlined court system in place
01 Apr 05 |  Scotland
'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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