Warning High Court changes will hit poorest hardest
Procedural changes in Scotland’s most senior criminal court risk punishing the poorest among those accused of crimes, a leading legal figure has warned.
All preliminary hearings – a mandatory pre-trial procedure to decide if a case is ready to go for trial – are now being heard in Glasgow High Court following a change in October.
In September, the Lord President, Lord Gill, said having Glasgow as a dedicated centre instead of a three-way split with Edinburgh and Aberdeen “will free up court time for other hearings and effect significant savings in legal aid”.
However, solicitor advocate, John Scott QC, who specialises in High Court trials and appeals, has claimed the change risks hitting the poorest accused hardest, with no prospect of recouping additional costs brought about even if acquitted.
“In the High Court, all preliminary hearings are now in Glasgow and that’s for every part of the country,” the Justice Scotland chair told Holyrood.
“The accused who are in custody, the prison service and G4S have to shift them round the country, so that’s an increased expense on their part.
“But the poor accused who’s on bail has to travel down from Aberdeen to make sure he’s at court in time for really, to be on the safe side, half past nine. It’s very difficult to do that by way of public transport.”
Figures published last week showed 271 bail orders were granted by the High Court in 2013-14, up from 207 the previous year. A total of 604 High Court disposals were made over the same period.
“The court would tell you that they consulted on it,” added Scott. “But to be honest, they weren’t consulting with accused people.
“I think the decision was made largely on the basis that it was convenient for the court. It’s hard to see that it works really on any other basis.”
A Scottish Court Service spokeswoman said: “The High Court covers cases from all across Scotland and therefore there is always an element of travel involved for people attending court. However, these numbers are small and the efficiencies gained both reduce the number of preliminary hearings and increase the certainty of trials proceeding.”