Evaluation of the Reforms to Summary Criminal Legal Assistance and Disclosure

Findings of the impact of reforms to disclosure and summary criminal legal assistance introduced by the summary justice reform programme.


1. Summary criminal legal assistance incorporates Advice and Assistance (A&A, paid to defence solicitors who provide initial advice on criminal matters), Assistance by Way of Representation (ABWOR, paid to defence lawyers in cases where the accused pleads guilty at pleading diet), Summary Criminal Legal Aid (paid in cases where the accused pleads not guilty at first calling) and payments to duty solicitors.

2. Other aspects of the reforms subject to detailed evaluation are: direct measures (Richards et al, 2011); fines enforcement; lay justice; bail and undertakings; victims, witnesses and public perceptions; and Summary Justice System Performance. See Scottish Government (2009) for more information.

3. The subsequent creation of a statutory duty of disclosure under the Criminal Justice and Licensing Act 2010 does not alter this.

4. A more detailed overview of the main changes to summary criminal legal assistance introduced by the reforms is available in Appendix D.

5. These included Sheriffs, court clerks, depute Fiscals, defence solicitors and senior police officers. The court locations are not disclosed for reasons of confidentiality.

6. Only 42 cases were provided in relation to one court.

7. The practice of discounting or reducing sentences for pleas of guilty, especially early pleas.

8. In the case of Du Plooy v HM Advocate the High Court gave clear approval to a more explicit scheme of sentence discounting than had earlier been the case.

9. See Figure A.3 in Appendix A

10. See Figure A.4 in Appendix A.

11. The figures actually refer to the proportion of accused appearing at the various diet types for which the outcome of the diet in court was either pled guilty (for the guilty plea rate) or pled guilty, not guilty plea accepted, or not called/deserted (for the conclusive rate). Whilst multiple accused may appear at a single diet, for ease of reference, we have referred to 'diets' rather than 'accused'.

12. April 2009 to Jun 2009, Jul 2009 to June 2010 and July 2010 to March 2011.

13. At the time of the research, where possible, and in the majority of cases, full disclosure by COPFS was made by copying electronic copies of the relevant documentation to a pen drive - a small, portable disk drive which can be inserted into the USB port of a computer - and the pen drive was given to the defence rather than the paper documentation itself. Since then COPFS have established a secure disclosure website to which defence solicitors can sign up. In this system, the disclosable material is placed on the secure site by COPFS and defence solicitors logon to download it.

14. A full description of the assumptions behind these estimates and further detail of the figures used to calculate them are included in Appendix A.

15. These cases were selected for consideration of their disclosable summary. Further discussion of this element of the research is provided in Chapter 4.

16. A full description of the economic analysis undertaken including the model developed, and the costs and probabilities used, is included in Appendix B.

17. This is calculated as the total amount paid in criminal legal aid related to Sheriff court cases plus 86.5% of the total amount paid in relation to ABWOR and A&A (the remaining 13.5% for these fee types being paid in relation to District/JP court cases).

18. Note that due to rounding, totals may not be equal to 100%

19. The remaining 2% attributed the change to something other than these reforms.

20. Cases which are given 'exceptional case status' by SLAB are not subject to the fixed fee arrangements - see SLAB guidance on criminal fixed payments:

21. An 'acceptable plea letter' sets out to the accused and his solicitor the terms under which the Crown are willing to accept a plea - for example, where someone is accused of multiple offences, which offences may potentially be dropped in response to an early plea.

22. A description of the sampling criteria used to select the summaries is included in Appendix C.

23. See Appendix C for fuller discussion of the methodological considerations given to this approach.

24. Note that since the time of the research COPFS have established a secure disclosure website where disclosable material is made available electronically for defence solicitors to download.

25. Note that this perception reflects views at the time of the interviews. The research team have been informed that these application are now more straightforward to complete although it is unclear whether defence solicitors will perceive this to be the case.

26. Almost no pre-reform activity data are available for JP courts, as such exclusively Sheriff court activity data has been used where possible. However, some data items did not permit a separation of Sheriff and JP court activity and represent average probabilities across both courts.

27. This is calculated as the total amount paid in criminal legal aid related to Sheriff court cases plus 86.5% of the total amount paid in relation to ABWOR and A&A (the remaining 13.5% for these aid types being paid in relation to District/JP court cases).

28. Note: at the time of writing, the only outcome available at intermediate diet for which data was available at court level was guilty plea rate.

29. For example, it was agreed to exclude cases being heard in any 'specialist' courts.


Email: Debbie Headrick

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