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Last Updated: Monday, 15 May 2006, 08:21 GMT 09:21 UK
Court reforms 'benefit victims'
Judges in court
High Court reforms were introduced in April last year
Victims, witnesses and jurors have benefited from major reforms to Scotland's High Courts, according to the Scottish Executive.

A number of measures were introduced in April 2005 to allow more cases to be disposed of without courts.

Figures for the first year of the new system showed there was a 144% rise in early guilty pleas, resulting in fewer people being called to court.

The executive plans similar changes for sheriff and district courts.

The reforms, based on the review by High Court judge Lord Bonomy, gave prosecutors and defence lawyers longer to prepare before cases came to court and introduced a new preliminary hearing.

At this point the accused person can plead guilty, meaning that fewer juries have been needed and fewer witnesses have had to go to court.

Our challenge now is to build on this success and drive forward much-needed improvements in the non-jury courts
Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson

There has also been a substantial reduction in adjournments. The figures showed about 96% of trials have been sworn in on the day assigned or the following day.

The previous year a third of trials were adjourned once and 15% were adjourned at least twice under the old system of "floating" trial diets in fortnightly sittings.

Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson said further legislation was planned, aimed at reforming the lower, non-jury courts, following a review led by Sheriff Principal John McInnes.

'Minimal sentences'

She said: "While a full evaluation of the impact of the High Court reforms is under way, today's initial findings show that more than one year on the changes are now delivering very clear benefits.

"Our challenge now is to build on this success and drive forward much-needed improvements in the non-jury courts where the bulk of Scotland's justice is delivered."

Scotland's most senior prosecutor, the Lord Advocate Colin Boyd QC, added: "With more cases being dealt with by earlier guilty pleas, either at or before the first scheduled hearing, these reforms have delivered speedier justice."

However, Conservative MSP Bill Aitken criticised the new sentence discounts for those pleading guilty.

He claimed this had resulted in too many criminals serving a minimal amount of time in prison.

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