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Executive publishes summary justice reform bill

1 March 2006

The Scottish Executive has published its Criminal Proceedings Reform (Scotland) Bill, containing a range of measures aimed at improving the management and operation of the lower courts.

Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson said the bill should speed up the handling of cases in non-jury summary courts and offer greater opportunities for community involvement in the justice system, bringing benefits beyond the courtroom.

Proposals include new fines enforcement officers who will manage the collection of fines imposed by the courts and be able to arrest the earnings of offenders who do not pay up.

Other new provisions are:

  • increasing the maximum level of fiscal fine from £100 to £500 and introducing fiscal compensation orders, allowing fiscals to require minor offenders to pay compensation of up to £5,000 to their victims without the case coming to court;
  • allowing prosecutors to apply to the court to have all outstanding charges "rolled up" into a single case, even if the charges are outstanding in different sheriffdoms;
  • increasing the sentencing powers of sheriffs in non-jury cases to a maximum of 12 months' imprisonment and a £10,000 fine;
  • reforming the appointment and training procedures for justices of the peace (JPs);
  • bringing district courts, currently run by local authorities, under the management of the Scottish Court Service.

Ms Jamieson said: "Clearly the law of criminal procedure has to be fair, but that does not mean we cannot get cases through the system more quickly. Dealing with a case faster maintains the link between the offence and the penalty in the mind of the offender - and helps reduce the likelihood of reoffending.

"A quick, effective response at this stage offers our best opportunity to stop a first time offender becoming a persistent offender - a chance to stop a life of crime in its tracks."

The minister said she had decided against forcing judges into automatic remand of those accused of certain crimes. Instead, judges will be allowed to grant bail to those accused of serious sex, violence and drug crimes, but only under exceptional circumstances.

Those who breach bail conditions are also to be punished more severely under the new reforms, with the option of additional prison sentences of up to five years.