Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Law & Order : Justice Secretary announces review of sheriff & jury procedures

Scotland’s Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill has today announced an ‘independent review’ of sheriff and jury criminal court cases.

The ‘independent review’ will be carried out by a Sheriff, in this case, Sheriff Principal Bowen, the Sheriff Principal of Lothian & Borders, and the ‘review’ will be completed by summer 2010. (Independent reviews - is this a thing we can do in Scotland ? - Ed)

Scottish Government Press Release :

Review of sheriff and jury procedures


An independent review of sheriff and jury criminal court cases was announced today by Cabinet Secretary for Justice Kenny MacAskill.

Sheriff Principal Bowen, Sheriff Principal of Lothian & Borders, will examine practice and procedure in sheriff and jury cases, with a view to reporting to Ministers by summer 2010.

This follows two previous independent reviews, one into High Court procedure, led by Lord Bonomy, and subsequently the summary justice reforms recommended by Sheriff Principal McInnes.

Mr MacAskill said:

"The Scottish Government is determined to promote a safer and stronger Scotland. There is much to be proud of in our independent criminal justice system. However, we must ensure that all its parts remain fair, effective and efficient.

"The Bonomy and McInnes reviews have led to significant reforms that have benefited victims and witnesses, while continuing to ensure fairness to the accused.

"Sheriff Principal Bowen's review will help ensure that efficient and fair justice continues to be delivered throughout the criminal justice system.

"I am delighted that Sheriff Principal Bowen, an experienced and respected judicial figure, has agreed to undertake this review. The Lord President has fully endorsed his appointment. "

Sheriff Principal Bowen said:

"I am very pleased to have been asked to lead this important review of sheriff and jury procedure. There is a wide acknowledgement across criminal justice organisations and legal professionals of the need for this review.

"It follows the recent reviews of the High Court and summary justice and accordingly will complete the circle of reform of Scotland's criminal justice procedures.

"The review is timely having regard to the forthcoming report on Civil Justice by the review team headed by the Lord Justice Clerk. That report may lead to far-reaching changes in the structure of Scotland's court system.

"It is important that all procedures within the criminal justice system should be modern and fit for purpose.

"I am sure that lessons can be learnt from earlier reviews and the revised procedures which resulted from them. The present review will draw on those experiences and will endeavour to consolidate all recognised improvements.

"My objective, shared with those who will be working with me, is to create a system which operates efficiently with particularly emphasis in minimising inconvenience and distress to victims and witnesses."

The most serious criminal cases in Scotland are heard before a jury under solemn procedure in the High Court or Sheriff Court. More than 80 per cent of solemn cases are heard in the Sheriff Court. The Sheriff can impose a maximum term of imprisonment of five years following a jury trial.

The review remit is: 'To review the arrangements for sheriff and jury business, including the procedures and practices of the Sheriff Court and the rules of criminal procedure as they apply to solemn business in the Sheriff Court; and to make recommendations for the more efficient and cost-effective operation of sheriff and jury business in promoting the interests of justice and reducing inconvenience and stress to the victims and witnesses involved in cases.'

Sheriff Principal Edward Farquharson Bowen QC qualified as an Advocate in 1970. Between 1983 and 1990 he served as a sheriff at Dundee before returning to the Bar. He was appointed as Queen's Counsel in 1992. In 1997 he was appointed to the office of Sheriff Principal of Glasgow and Strathkelvin. In 2005 he became Sheriff Principal of Lothian and Borders. He has also given service as a temporary judge in the High Court and Court of Session since 2000.

Sheriff Principal Bowen will appoint a Reference Group, including representatives from the Crown, courts service, police and defence practitioners, to assist with the review.

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