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Sheriff and jury procedure

Cases that call for trial before a jury are the most serious criminal cases in Scotland. These jury trials are heard in either the High Court or the Sheriff Court. Of these jury trials the vast majority, over 80 per cent, are dealt with in the Sheriff Court under what is commonly referred to as sheriff and jury procedure.

The Independent Review of Sheriff and Jury Procedure, was carried out by Sheriff Principal Bowen to ensure that the system is fair, effective and efficient.

Sheriff Principal Bowen made 34 recommendations seeking to modernise current sheriff and jury procedure. Many of his recommendations could be delivered through improved working practices.

Following consultation, we have included provisions in the Criminal Justice (S) Bill which take forward Sheriff Principal Bowen’s recommendations with the aims of:

  • reducing waste and inefficiency
  • achieving earlier and more effective communication
  • improving the speed of disposal of cases
  • improving the experience of victims, witnesses and jurors, and
  • increasing public confidence in the system

The Bill:

  • introduces a requirement on the prosecution and defence to communicate after the indictment is served and to jointly prepare, and lodge, a written record of their state of preparation of the case
  • requires that cases are indicted to a first diet, enabling the court to ensure that a trial is fixed only when the court is satisfied the case is ready
  • increases the maximum time for which a person can be held on remand from 110 days to 140 days, in order to allow parties time to comply with the duty to communicate after the indictment is served. This mirrors the timescales currently applied in the High Court
  • removes the requirement for an accused person to sign a guilty plea, enabling proceedings to take place via live TV link (where the court permits the use of TV links)