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Less use of direct measures than expected

11 July 2008

Since its introduction earlier this year, reforms to summary justice have not been used as widely as anticipated, according to the Crown Office.

Since March 2008, offenders can avoid court appearances and receive a fine or pay compensation to their victim instead.

Frank Mulholland QC, the Solicitor General for Scotland, said claims in the media that procurator fiscals were reducing summary court prosecutions by anything from between 50% and 75% because of the increased use of direct measures were not true.

He said: “In fact, the early impact of the reforms on sheriff court prosecutions is a fall of 13%, which is less than the projected fall of 17% to which the Lord Advocate referred, in the Scottish Parliament, on 27 March.

“The average number of new prosecutions in the sheriff court between April 2007 and March 2008 was 8,092 per month. The latest figures show that between April 2008 and June 2008 the monthly average was 7,079.”

Mr Mulholland said prosecutors were not issuing “excessive numbers of direct measures”. The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) had predicted that the number of direct measures issued as a result of summary justice reform would increase by between 10% and 15%.

Surprisingly, he added, in the early months of the reforms there had in fact been a fall of 5% in the number of direct measures used. The average number of monthly direct measures issued by prosecutors in 2007-08 was 4,293. Between April and June of 2008, the average number was 4,079.

The number of direct measures is expected to increase over time, Mr Mulholland continued, and he believes that the early drop at the start of the reforms is due to increased fines issued by police officers under the Antisocial Behaviour Act (Scotland) 2004.

Mr Mulholland also listed those offences for which direct measures shouldn’t be seen as appropriate. These include: domestic violence; drug dealing; violence that is likely to attract a prison sentence or which is directed against police or emergency workers; offences involving the possession or use of knives or offensive weapons; any case where there is a significant sexual aspect; and cases where the accused suffers from a mental disorder.

The number of cases going through the sheriff court has remained constant throughout the reforms.