Tories complain over a third of sheriff court and justice of the peace cases last longer than six months

Written by Mark McLaughlin on 4 October 2016 in News

More than a third of cases in sheriff and justice of the peace courts take over six months to conclude, figures obtained by the Tories show.

More than a third of cases in sheriff and justice of the peace courts take over six months to conclude, figures obtained by the Tories show.

Just 63.5 per cent of cases met the target to dispense with cases in under 26 weeks in July 2016.

The Conservatives suggested court closures may be to blame, pointing out that nearly three quarters of cases met the target in September 2013 before closures were approved in Cupar, Motherwell and Dingwall.

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But the Scottish Government says there is no evidence to suggest closures has had any impact on the delays, insisting Glasgow Sheriff and Justice of the Peace court has experienced "particular local pressures".

The average length of time taken from caution or charge-to-verdict has also increased.

Conservative justice spokesman Douglas Ross said: “When the Scottish Government embarked on this unnecessary and unpopular round of court closures, it was warned of the impact.

“Now we’re seeing exactly that, with a third of cases taking longer than the 26-week target timeframe to conclude.

“That’s not good enough for the victims of crime, and it’s clearly left the remaining courts with an increasing backlog. 

“This was an ill-judged decision by the SNP, which now has to explain what it’s going to do to improve this performance."

A Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service spokesman said courts aim to reach trial within 16 weeks of cases first calling, reduced to 10-12 weeks in domestic abuse cases.

He said: "In April 2014 the percentage of Sheriff Courts offering criminal trials at the optimum 16 weeks was 50 per cent, as at August 2016 this figure had increased to 97 per cent. 

"For domestic abuse cases, all Sheriff Courts are offering domestic abuse trial diets within 12 weeks, as at August 2016."

He added that court cases have increased recently in both volume and complexity, particularly in relation to domestic abuse and historical sexual offences.

He added: "The increased complexity and numbers of cases proceeding to evidence-trial has no connection at all with court closures. 

"Cases that transferred from closed courts amounted to only 5 per cent of overall court business, with the same judicial and staff numbers available to deal with the cases."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “There is no evidence to suggest that court closures has had any impact on the time it takes for cases to go through the courts. Latest figures show 97 per cent of sheriff courts are offering trials within 16 weeks or faster.

“The rise of reporting and prosecution of certain types of crime has put extra pressure on the courts. 

"We have already allocated nearly £1.5 million for extra fiscals, judiciary and admin staff to help respond to delays and speed up access to justice for victims and witnesses, and are spending an extra £5 million improving efficiency of cases involving domestic abuse and sexual offences.”



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