Monday, May 18, 2009

Law & Order : Court reforms falling apart as criminal cases delayed beyond 12 month time limit

Senior members of the legal profession have expressed concerns that many cases in the courts are being delayed beyond the 12 month statutory time limit for those in custody, despite recent reforms from the Scottish Government which were supposed to have stopped such delays.

The Herald reports :

Time delays in serious trials throw doubt on court reforms

LUCY ADAMS, Chief Reporter May 18 2009

Hundreds of high court cases are being significantly delayed despite recent reforms to the system which were supposed to have solved the problem.

Senior advocates say it is now impossible to get trials to start within the statutory time limit and that victims and innocent suspects are being forced to wait too long to get justice.

Figures obtained by The Herald under the Freedom of Information Act show that more than half of the 800 indictment cases in the past year were delayed beyond the 12-month time limit for someone in custody.

QCs Donald Findlay, Paul McBride and Frances McMenamin all expressed their concern.

In early 2007, ministers boasted that the High Court reforms following a review by Lord Bonomy had resulted in a 90% drop in trial delays, with just 46 adjournments in the year after new rules were introduced in April 2005. In the year before the reforms there were 475 adjournments.

However, the figures obtained by The Herald indicate that delays are significant and senior advocates believe the system requires urgent review.

Overall, since the reforms were introduced in April 2005, there have been 1147 extensions of time recorded by the Scottish Court Service. A breakdown shows that 1115 extensions were requested by the Crown, four by the defence, 25 on joint motion and three recorded as "other".

A spokesman for the Crown Office said: "The Bonomy reforms have had a dramatic impact in ensuring that High Court trials go ahead on the date for which they are planned."

Lord Bonomy's 2002 review of the high court system highlighted the repeated postponements and "churning" of cases as a huge problem.

As a result of his recommendations, the 110-day rule, frequently referred to as the "jewel in the crown" of Scots law, was extended. The time limit within which accused in custody must be brought to trial became 140 days instead of 110.

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