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Last Updated: Monday, 26 February 2007, 15:25 GMT
High court reforms judged success
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Aberdeen University carried out a study of the reforms
High Court reforms have been a "considerable success" for victims, witnesses, jurors and the courts, according to a report.

An evaluation by Aberdeen University found that there was a 90% fall in trial adjournments in April 2005-6, when reforms were introduced.

The number of Crown witnesses inconvenienced as a result fell 92% from 16,795 to 1,295.

The new procedures also helped treble accelerated pre-trial guilty pleas.

Aided by legal aid reforms and sentence discounting provisions, those rose from 10% in the pre-reform sample to 31% in the post-reform sample.

Tackling problems

The report, published by the Scottish Executive, showed there had been a substantial reduction in the number of cases requiring two or more trial sittings or dates, down from 279 to 32 cases.

This meant fewer victims and witnesses having to make repeated attendances at court.

It has also emerged that preliminary hearings have been continued more often than anticipated, with 222 cases or 39% of the post-reform sample having two or more continuations, and 61 cases or 11% having four or more.

This was most common in rape or sexual assault cases which tended to be more complicated.

Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson welcomed the report, which she claimed showed the reforms - introduced to tackle inefficiency and delays - were working.

"The substantial reductions in the number of cases which have to go to trial and the trebling of early guilty pleas means that fewer victims, witnesses and jurors are required to attend court unnecessarily," she said.

I am delighted that this shows that the key aim of reducing witness inconvenience has been so comprehensively achieved
Elish Angiolini
Lord Advocate

"Meanwhile, the reduction in the number of adjournments of trial has resulted in far fewer Crown witnesses being inconvenienced.

"I want to pay tribute to all those within the criminal justice system who have helped the reforms result in such considerable initial success - defence lawyers, prosecutors, court staff and the judiciary."

Lord Bonomy
Lord Bonomy had the task of reviewing procedures

Lord Bonomy was appointed in December 2001 to carry out a review of High Court procedures, which led to the publication of the white paper Modernising Justice in Scotland. Legislation allowed these reforms to be implemented on 1 April, 2005.

The Lord Advocate, Elish Angiolini, said: "The reforms of the High Court have not only brought about a substantial change of procedure but also a necessary change in culture. "I am delighted that this shows that the key aim of reducing witness inconvenience has been so comprehensively achieved, sparing victims and witnesses the often stressful, and time-consuming experience of going to court."

"I am particularly proud of the contribution to the reforms made by the staff of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and by Crown Counsel, my team of dedicated High Court prosecutors."




SEE ALSO
Law court reforms passed by MSPs
18 Jan 07 |  Scotland
Court reforms 'benefit victims'
15 May 06 |  Scotland
Court reforms lead to efficiency
30 Nov 05 |  Scotland

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