Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service outlines new digital model for summary court procedure

Written by Jenni Davidson on 3 March 2017 in News

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service is proposing to introduce greater use of technology to summary criminal trials

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Scottish courts are to embrace “radical digital transformation”, if new proposals from the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) are implemented.

A SCTS paper published this week outlines the transformation that could take place in summary court procedure.

Following on from high-level proposals published by SCTS in February last year, Evidence and Procedure Review – a New Model for Summary Criminal Court Procedure lays out in more detail plans to make it possible to carry out much of what currently takes place in a court room digitally.


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Among the overarching recommendations is that as a rule pre-trial procedure should take place as part of a digital case management process.

It is also proposed that in cases where the accused pleads guilty there should be the option for sentencing to be carried out digitally without the need for a court appearance.

As well as greater use of technology, the paper also lays out plans for better case management to reduce court ‘churn’ – where cases don’t proceed as planned, leading to both inefficiency in the system and inconvenience and stress for witnesses and victims.

Introducing the report, SCTS chief executive Eric McQueen said: “With the digital age well and truly upon us, we are surrounded by technology that shapes our lives, connects us and transforms the way that we conduct and transact business online. 

“Against this background we have the opportunity to reconsider fundamentally how our services are delivered.

"It is fair to say that our summary criminal court procedure has not kept pace with such innovation. 

“Our criminal courts, with their origins in the Victorian times, still rely heavily on paper transactions, postal-based practices and bringing people together in a court room for procedural hearings and trials, many months after an incident. 

“As recent Audit Scotland reports have highlighted, this brings inherent inefficiency, delay and inconvenience.

"I am pleased to introduce this paper which describes what a new summary criminal court process could look like underpinned by digital case management.

"Our task now is to bring our summary criminal court procedure right into the 21st Century, not by tinkering at the edges, but by radical digital transformation to improve the quality of justice for all concerned. 

“I am convinced that by having the right dialogue with the right people, we can realise that possibility.”

The proposals have been welcomed by the Law Society of Scotland.

Law Society president Eilidh Wiseman said: “There is much to welcome in SCTS’s proposals for summary court reform and we applaud the innovative approach taken.

“The paper makes some radical proposals which would potentially change the face of summary court practice if implemented.

“Greater use of technology could bring substantial improvement to our courts.

“However, if we are to adopt more technology-driven processes, they will need to be properly resourced.

“We also need to be aware that not everyone has access to the internet and it will be essential that accused people, particularly those who are vulnerable, fully understand any new system to ensure their rights are upheld.”

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