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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 January 2008, 15:29 GMT
Ministers propose court reforms
The lord president
The lord president said judges would look carefully at the bill
A bill to modernise Scotland's courts and give judges greater independence has been published.

The proposed new laws would give the lord president some responsibilities currently held by Scottish ministers.

The bill proposes to bring all the country's courts under the administration of the lord president, the head of the Scottish judiciary.

The lord president, Lord Hamilton, said judges did not necessarily agree with everything proposed in the bill.

The Scottish Government said the judiciary should be independent of the legislative and executive branches.

I believe that the bill presents an opportunity for the Scottish Parliament to make law of very considerable constitutional significance
Lord Hamilton

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: "This bill will strengthen and modernise arrangements for the Scottish judiciary and reform the administration of the courts.

"It will build on existing and on-going reforms, including improvements to how police, fiscals and the courts deal with lower-level 'summary' cases, to improve the experience of the public and practitioners within a modern justice system.

"The legislation is one of constitutional significance which considers the relationship between the judiciary and the other branches of government. I look forward to further discussion and debate as it progresses through the parliament."

The bill builds on previous consultations that began in 2006 and resulted in a white paper being published in February 2007 by the previous executive.

'Constitutional significance'

The proposals include a code of conduct for sheriffs.

The bill would give the lord president formal recognition as head of the Scottish judiciary, along with some additional responsibilities.

It would also guarantee the continued independence of the judiciary in statute.

Lord Hamilton said he broadly welcomed the proposals.

"I believe that the bill presents an opportunity for the Scottish Parliament to make law of very considerable constitutional significance, which will place the relationship of the judiciary with the Scottish Government, and indeed with the parliament itself, on a new footing," he said.

He said there had been constructive dialogue between the judiciary and Scottish ministers, but said that did not necessarily mean that judges agreed with everything being put forward.

He said: "The senior judiciary stand ready to enter into a constructive dialogue with members of the parliament in relation to the bill.

"In particular, we look forward to taking up any opportunity which is afforded to us to provide written or oral evidence during its passage through parliament."

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