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Crown must recognise court capacity in bringing prosecutions: Carloway


A pragmatic approach by the Crown is needed in deciding how many cases should be prosecuted – taking account of court capacity to process them, the Lord President, Lord Carloway, told the Law Society of Scotland annual conference yesterday.

Delivering the opening keynote address at the conference, held on the theme "Leading Legal Excellence: For the Greater Good", Lord Carloway offered an overview of the court reform programme to date and what was still to be achieved.

With criminal cases, he noted, the courts have very little control over the volume of cases they have to determine, and "On the assumption, which is not always justified, that the current system is operating at maximum capacity, it must be recognised that only a finite number of cases per week, month or year can be processed... Prosecuting more than that number will clog up the system, return it to a pre-reformed state and result in increased intervals between complaint, petition and indictment, and verdict."

The only meaningful option, the Lord President continued, was to make the systems as efficient as possible – which meant embracing the opportunity presented by digital innovation to streamline procedures.

On civil business, Lord Carloway noted the effect of the court reforms which he predicted would deliver "a slimmer, leaner and fitter Court of Session", and later returned to electronic case management, noting the experience with the simple procedure in the sheriff court. "Implementation, which in time will result in the end of the paper process, has not been without difficulty. Numerous updates to the system have been needed to fix glitches and gremlins."

But, he continued, "there is no fundamental problem. The system is working well in many, but not all, parts of the country. The shift from a paper based process to an electronic one is inevitable. The transfer to the electronic process was never going to be easy. Having said that, hard lessons have been learned, particularly with regard to the type of piloting which is required, and the importance of communication between those involved in the different aspects of the system".

An entirely electronic process was "what the public expect", and harnessing the power of technology, "provided the system has the right people at the helm" – a subject also covered in his address – was the way to create a justice system fit for the 21st century. "That is what society is entitled to expect", he concluded. "Only then will be able to say that the Scottish courts in the 21st century operate for the greater good."

Click here to view the full address.

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