Friday, May 02, 2008

Scots Justice system being treated with 'deserved' contempt

Well they do say if there is something rotten it should be cut out, and as most of us who are connected with the Scots justice system in some way know .. there is definitely a few more things rotten than just an occasional bad apple ....

Time for a change then as we all hope, but there doesn't appear to be the political leadership to make the necessary changes in justice ?

The Scotsman reports :

Law and order: 'Justice system being treated with contempt'

THE publication of figures today which reveal that 12,000 people miss scheduled court appearances or fail to pay fines each year in the Lothians demonstrates the contempt many have for the justice system.

While the vast majority of people would never contemplate ignoring something as serious as a summons to court, there is clearly an element who treat a court summons with the same urgency as junk mail.

Of course, many of these people lead such chaotic lives – with the never-ending search for cheap drink and drugs the only purpose – that they have little idea about where to be in the next hour, never mind when they are due in court.

But as a result, the system's ability to dispense justice quickly is hampered and the bill for wasted court and police time in the Lothians amounts to thousands of lost man-hours. The Scottish Police Federation says that on average 16.5 per cent of police time is spent at court.

Figures obtained by the Evening News today also reveal that in an average month, around 1500 warrants are outstanding in the Lothians for those who have fail to appear at court or don't pay fines. Police do their best to track down offenders by visiting last known addresses or appealing to their better judgement by writing to them asking them to make contact. But the reality is that many are not found until they are arrested for other offences and earlier warrants come to light.

The justice department has been wrestling with these problems since last year with its summary justice reform programme, and is hopeful measures which came into force in March this year will provide some of the answers.

To speed up the justice process, officials are attempting to obtain "undertakings" to have those charged with minor offences dealt with inside 28 days.

To further relieve pressure on the courts, they also hope to see greater use of on-the-spot fines. At present, around 70 a month are being handed out in the Lothians and police hope that as more officers are trained in the use of the technology, this will rise to over 100. A team of more than 30 officers has been formed to chase up outstanding fines, seizing wages and assets if necessary.

But recommendations that US-style custody courts and Saturday courts be established to deal with cases more quickly will remain hampered by a lack of overnight accommodation.

In Edinburgh, about 20,000 people were taken into custody in 2006 – an average of nearly 400 a week – while the city's main custody facility at St Leonard's Police Station has only 42 cells. But as with most crime-related problems, the only way to tackle the symptoms is by treating the underlying causes, and drink and drug abuse lies at the heart of most.

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