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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 September 2007, 14:47 GMT 15:47 UK
Fair trial system 'needs change'
Courtroom - generic
The Scottish Government is to consult on the issue
Measures which help ensure people accused of crimes in Scotland receive a fair trial need substantial improvement, according to a new report.

The disclosure system ensures that the Crown makes information which may clear an accused person available to them.

The report, by retired high court judge Lord Coulsfield, said improvements should be made through legislation.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill welcomed the findings, adding that ministers would consult on the issue.

Defence practitioners have expressed doubts about the extent to which police officers are encouraged to properly perform their duty of passing on information which may absolve someone of a crime, stated Lord Coulsfield's report, which was commissioned by the previous justice minister, Cathy Jamieson.

A range of legislative and executive action is also needed to secure substantial improvements to disclosure practices at the present time
Lord Coulsfield

It is also now widely thought, he added, that the defence's part in independently investigating cases had been "much reduced" in recent years - throwing an even greater emphasis on the Crown's duty of disclosure, which is currently undertaken on an "ethical" basis.

Lord Coulsfield recommended new legislation to clarify the legal requirements of disclosure and set up a way to resolve conflicts of interest in cases where it may put witnesses or security interests at risk.

"I hope that this report," he stated, "will itself help to promote the clarity and security that the system of disclosure needs, as no doubt will future decisions of the higher courts.

"However, a range of legislative and executive action is also needed to secure substantial improvements to disclosure practices at the present time."

Mr MacAskill said a good disclosure system was vital to ensure fair trials and also helped the criminal justice system run more effectively.

Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini, Scotland's senior law officer, added: "The report marks a significant step towards achievement of the required degree of clarity in this complex area of law and practice."

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