Pilot to Help Manage Court Backlog

Sep 14, 2020

A pilot initiative at Hamilton Sheriff Court has been agreed to assist in reducing the backlog of summary court cases caused by the lockdown.

Due to the COVID-19 requirements for physical distancing in courts, the number of cases that can be continued to a trial date is much reduced. Many cases are currently resolved on the day of trial by an agreed plea.  That leads to the unnecessary presence of witnesses and use of trial slots. This pilot has been agreed to encourage early discussions between defence and prosecution with a view to identifying cases which can be resolved earlier and allowing only those cases which are fully prepared and which cannot be resolved, to proceed to a trial.  

South Strathclyde Dumfries and Galloway Sheriff Principal Aisha Anwar has set up weekly trial surgeries to facilitate candid discussions between the defence and the prosecution.  The aim is to identify what can be resolved or otherwise to agree evidence for those cases which require to proceed to trial, thus shortening the length of the trial.

A discussion on an agreed list of cases takes place in a room provided by the court.  Cases that require to call to record a plea are set down for a hearing that week.  Only trials that are ready to proceed will be allocated one of the reduced trial slots.

As a result of this week’s surgery, of the 54 cases discussed over 80% of cases were resolved with only 10 proceeding to trial.

SP Anwar said: “The results of this pilot are very encouraging and will undoubtedly help Hamilton Sheriff Court to manage the backlog of cases. The trial court must function efficiently and only those cases where evidence requires to be heard should proceed to a trial. Valuable court time can be lost if pleas of guilty are tendered on the morning of the trial, and of course there can be considerable unnecessary inconvenience and anxiety caused to complainers and witnesses.  The results of the surgeries are encouraging.

“I would like to thank the local defence agents and in particular the Dean of Faculty, Mark O’Hanlon, and the local COPFS staff, including the Area Fiscal Les Brown, for their willing and enthusiastic participation in the pilot.”

Mark O’Hanlon, Dean of Hamilton Faculty, said “Hamilton Bar were delighted to be consulted on this initiative by Sheriff Principal Anwar. This initiative demonstrates that, with a collaborative approach with the criminal bar at an early stage, substantial improvements to the administration of justice can be achieved.” 

Welcoming the pilot, Les Brown, Procurator Fiscal for South Strathclyde, said:

“The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is working closely with our criminal justice partners in responding effectively to the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic and is committed to working collaboratively to ensure the justice system fully recovers.

“This pilot will encourage greater and earlier communication between COPFS and our criminal justice partners and will hopefully lead to the shortening of journey times for victims and witnesses in the criminal justice sector and minimise the requirement for victims and witnesses to come to court.”

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