The courts have never been busier, and with not enough judges to cope, a new lawyer of criminal judges is being proposed to alleviate the problems
The Herald reports :
A series of suggestions for a shake-up of the Scottish courts system - which could include a new layer of criminal judges, like circuit judges in England and Wales - were published yesterday.
The report follows concern that appeal cases in the Court of Session are being held up because of the growth in criminal cases heard by the same judges in the high court.
A reallocation of civil litigation to the sheriff courts, leaving the Court of Session free to deal with appeals and cases involving important points of law, is also a possibility considered by the Scottish Civil Courts Review, set up in February.
Under the chairmanship of the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill, it has produced a wide-ranging consultation paper setting out the principal issues that have already been raised with the review, and the options for reform.
It deals with access to justice, the cost and funding of litigation as well as the structure of the civil courts and the procedures adopted by the courts.
The report points out in recent years that the number of sitting days devoted to civil business in the Court of Session has remained static, while the number of days allocated to criminal business has risen by 45% in 11 years - with the number of High Court trials up from 259 in 2004-05 to 455 in 2006-07.
"The average jury trial now takes longer to complete," it says. "In addition, there is a greater incidence of lengthy cases, driven in part by wider prosecution of white collar and organised crime, a trend which seems set to increase."
It adds: "The opinion has been expressed that many of the cases now being indicted at High Court level could be dealt with by sheriff courts.
"Examples have been given of occasions when the pressure of criminal business has meant there have been no judges available to deal with civil cases which have been set down to be heard on a particular day.
"Even among serious cases that are appropriate for prosecution in the High Court, there are many cases which raise no particular problems of fact or law."
Temporary judges recruited from the ranks of the sheriffs and senior bar dealt with the work of the High Court competently and on the whole satisfactorily, the study found.
Instead of continually increasing the number of High Court judges to meet the increasing workload of that court, a preferable solution might be to create mid-level judges, corresponding to circuit judges in England and Wales who routinely try serious crimes.
High Court judges could then deal only with trials of special importance, whether by reason of their facts or the complexity of the legal questions that they raised, and in this way be available for a greater amount of civil work and for some of the work of the appeal court.
Also among the points raised were whether there should be a greater degree of specialisation within the civil courts, while the Court of Session and the sheriff court should retain their existing jurisdictions.
The need for self-help services for people who do not have a lawyer was suggested and the report asked whether there should be a unitary all-Scotland sheriff court instead of the existing sheriffdoms.
It was also asked whether the use of mediation or other methods of dispute resolution should be extended. The deadline for responses is March 31.