Thematic report on the management of time limits: follow-up

Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland's follow-up to their report published in February 2015.

Chief Inspector's Foreword

The thematic report on the management of time limits was published in February 2015.

Time limits set out in legislation regulate the maximum length of time that can elapse between the first time a person appears in court charged with an offence and the start of their trial on that charge. Different time limits apply depending on whether an accused person is in custody or on bail.

Scotland has one of the tightest time limit regimes among comparable jurisdictions. Responsibility for complying with time limits rests with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service ( COPFS). [1] Failure to adhere to statutory time limits has serious consequences:

  • If the accused has been remanded in custody and the relevant time limit is not complied with, the accused will be released on bail. [2] Remand in custody is a means of managing the risk that an accused person presents, to individuals, to the community and/or to the administration of justice. Releasing such a person on bail, therefore, potentially places people in danger and/or creates a risk that s/he may try to interfere with or evade justice.
  • For accused persons released on bail, failure to comply with relevant time limits brings proceedings to an end and the accused person will be free for all time from those charges.

As well as the consequences described for victims, witnesses and the community, any failure to comply with statutory time limits is likely to undermine public confidence in COPFS and, potentially, in the criminal justice system as a whole.

The focus of the inspection was the management of time limits that apply to serious cases prosecuted under solemn procedure ("solemn cases"), that is cases prosecuted in the High Court or in the Sheriff Court before a jury. Time limits apply to all solemn cases prosecuted in Scotland.

We found that COPFS has a strong record of compliance with statutory time limits, but the combination of an increasing volume of serious cases, the changing profile of serious offending and the greater complexity of such cases, within the context of reducing budgets, posed significant challenges for COPFS in the management of its solemn business and increased the risk that cases may be lost if time limits are not managed effectively.

We made 13 recommendations designed to provide assurance that the systems employed by COPFS to ensure compliance with time limits are effective, comprehensive and robust.


Email: Carolyn Sharp

Back to top