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The Summary Justice Review Committee: Report to Ministers


The Summary Justice Review Committee: REPORT TO MINISTERS


1.1 In November 2001 the then Minister for Justice, Jim Wallace, announced the membership of a Committee appointed to review summary justice in Scotland under the chairmanship of Sheriff Principal John McInnes.

1.2 Mr Wallace said:

"We want to promote a criminal justice system which is prompt and efficient. The great majority of criminal cases are dealt with in the summary courts and it is vital that they work well.

We need to ensure that the structures we have in place take account of changes in law and changes in society. It is important to ensure that our courts meet public expectations of a modern, efficient and fair justice system.

I am pleased that this review will be taken forward by a Committee which can draw from a depth of expertise and wide range of interests involved in the provision of summary justice.

The Committee has a challenging remit and I look forward to receiving its recommendations for the more efficient and effective delivery of summary justice in Scotland."

1.3 The formal remit of the Committee was:

"To review the provision of summary justice in Scotland, including the structures and procedures of the sheriff courts and district courts as they relate to summary business and the inter-relation between the two levels of court, and to make recommendations for the more efficient and effective delivery of summary justice in Scotland."

1.4 The Committee members appointed were:

Sheriff Principal John McInnes, QC


Mr Cliff Binning

Scottish Court Service

Mr Robin Christie

Stipendiary Magistrate, Glasgow District Court

Mr Michael Conboy

Commission for Racial Equality

Mr Alistair Duff

Law Society of Scotland

Professor Peter Duff

School of Law, Aberdeen University

Mr Tom Dysart

Assistant Procurator Fiscal, Glasgow

Mrs Phyllis Hands

Principal Solicitor, North Lanarkshire Council (District Court)

Mr Tim Huntingford

Chief Executive, West Dunbartonshire Council

Sheriff Brian Lockhart

Vice-President, Sheriffs' Association

Mr Jim McColl OBE

Chief Executive, Clyde Blowers Ltd

Mr David McKenna

Chief Executive, Victim Support Scotland

Mrs Helen Murray MBE

Justice of the Peace, Perth Commission Area

Mr George Purcell JP

COSLA, Vice Chairman

Chief Constable

Chief Constable, Dumfries and Galloway

David Strang QPM


1.5 Mr Purcell left the Committee following local authority elections in May 2003. Mr Conboy resigned and was replaced by Mr Chris Oswald, also from the Commission for Racial Equality, in November 2002.

1.6 The Committee met 23 times in formal session, five of which involved 2-day sessions. There were also three sub-groups set up to consider procedure in the courts, alternatives to prosecution, and the administration of the district courts. These sub-groups met on a number of occasions and in addition there were many informal discussions within ad hoc groups of Committee members throughout its deliberations.

1.7 The Committee decided from the outset that they would not see themselves as being representatives of the organisations from which they came and so be bound by any particular organisational viewpoint, but rather as individuals who had been chosen to provide the benefit of their experience. We decided that it followed that our discussions should be confidential to encourage the free exchange of ideas.

1.8 Many of the discussions within the Committee touched on important principles underlying the way our summary justice system is organised. It was to be expected that there would be debate and discussion on these issues. Members of the Committee recognised that it would not be possible to persuade other members that their detailed solutions should be adopted in all cases. As with all committees, many of the conclusions were reached in a spirit of compromise. The Committee was able to reach full agreement on most issues, but on some the views expressed in this report represent the majority view rather than a unanimous view.

1.9 The Committee decided to proceed by issuing a "first order" consultation document in March 2002 seeking views on the overall structure and aims and objectives of the summary justice system. The Committee received a range of replies, mainly from those involved in the system, and in particular from justices of the peace and organisations involved in the provision of lay justice. The Committee was very grateful to all those who responded. Annex B is a list of those who responded to that consultation. They made many thoughtful and constructive suggestions which the Committee continued to consider throughout its deliberations. The Committee was anxious to broaden this consultation process, and so commissioned a survey of public opinion seeking views on the operation of the summary justice system. This was carried out in January and February 2003.

1.10 The Committee decided to consult on more detailed and technical aspects of the Review by holding a series of practitioners' workshops. These events, which took place in March 2003 in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, invited a range of those who work within the court system to discuss the emerging proposals, many of which appear in this report. These workshops generated new ideas, confirmed some of the preliminary views of the Committee and caused us to think again about others. We found these workshops very useful. We also held a series of bilateral meetings with the following organisations to discuss those areas where we thought our proposals would be of particular interest. These meetings, which took place throughout 2003, were with:

Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland
Association of Directors of Social Work
Association of Scottish Police Superintendents
Convention of Scottish Local Authorities
Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service
District Courts Association (court clerks)
District Courts Association (justices)
Glasgow Bar Association
Glasgow Procurator Fiscal's Office
Law Society of Scotland
Procurators Fiscal Society
Professor Neil Hutton, Strathclyde University
Scottish Criminal Records Office
Scottish Legal Aid Board
Scottish Court Service
Scottish Police Federation
Sheriffs Association
Tayside Police
1.11 We found these to be valuable opportunities to discuss our ideas and were very grateful for the input from all those who attended the workshops and met with us in bilateral meetings.

1.12 In addition to the activities listed above the Committee commissioned several pieces of formal research: a survey of offenders' views of the summary justice system (conducted by George Street research); a paper comparing the costs of district, stipendiary magistrate and sheriff summary courts (produced by Professor Frank H Stephen of the University of Strathclyde); and a paper by Dr Nancy Loucks outlining a sample of prisoners' views of the summary justice system. We were grateful to all of those involved in conducting and writing up these pieces of research, which further informed the Committee's thinking. 1

1.13 During the course of the review members of the Committee visited 11 courts in Scotland. Members of the Committee also visited other jurisdictions, including England, Northern Ireland, New South Wales and Victoria in Australia, and the Netherlands. All these jurisdictions have tackled or are tackling problems similar to our own, though in different ways. At all of these places we had helpful and interesting discussions with judges, other lawyers, court officials and policy-makers. We would like to record our thanks to all those with whom we had discussions.

1.14 Over the course of the two years it has taken to produce this report there have been a number of other developments and initiatives aimed at improving the operation of the criminal justice system in Scotland, including:

  • the review of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) carried out by the Scottish Parliament's Justice 2 Committee and the management review of COPFS - the "Pryce Dyer Report";
  • Lord Bonomy's 2002 "Review of the Practices and Procedure of the High Court of Justiciary" and the consequent Criminal Procedure (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill currently before the Scottish Parliament as a result;
  • Andrew Normand's report "Proposals for the Integration of Aims, Objectives and Targets in the Scottish Criminal Justice System";
  • the creation of the Sentencing Commission; and
  • pilots of various other initiatives including youth courts and the expansion of supervised attendance orders.

We have endeavoured to keep abreast of all such developments since the inception of the Committee and appreciate that some of the changes already made are beginning to have a positive effect. Our recommendations take those developments into account and form an analysis of what still needs to be done to ensure that the summary justice system operates as effectively as it might.

1.15 This report does not attempt to record all the issues that were discussed, nor does it record all the solutions considered and rejected in relation to each issue. We have not recorded, in every case, detailed references for all the evidence we cite. We have adopted that approach in the interests of producing a succinct report which can be read and understood by people who may have no or only limited knowledge of the summary criminal justice system.