Improving the efficiency of criminal court procedure

Researchers: James Chalmers, Fiona Leverick, Peter Duff (University of Aberdeen), Yvonne Melvin (University of Aberdeen)

1999-2001 (adjournments in criminal cases) and 2005-2007 (reform of High Court criminal procedure)

Glasgow researchers have been involved in two major projects on this theme, both of which were supported by funding from the Scottish Executive. The first was a study aimed at examining ways of preventing unnecessary adjournments in criminal cases. It focused on four Scottish sheriff courts and found that rates and patterns of case adjournment differed considerably between them in a way that could not be explained by the nature of the caseload. It concluded that court culture is a significant factor influencing adjournment rates and that this can, to an extent, be imposed by judges. As such, the development of a more proactive case management culture amongst the judiciary might prevent unnecessary delays in criminal cases.

The second project was an evaluation of a number of reforms made to Scottish High Court criminal procedure by the Criminal Procedure (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2004. The reforms were implemented with the aim of overcoming problems of adjournment and delay and the most significant was the introduction of a mandatory preliminary hearing in which a presiding judge assesses the readiness of the prosecution and defence to proceed to trial. The research demonstrated that the reforms were broadly successful both in reducing unnecessary trial adjournments and in encouraging guilty pleas to be tendered at an early stage in proceedings, with considerable benefits for complainers and other witnesses. It also confirmed the finding of the first project that court culture plays an important role in minimising unnecessary delay and that the full support of the judiciary is necessary if reforms of this nature are to be effective.

Key publications:

J Chalmers, P Duff, F Leverick and Y Melvin,An Evaluation of the High Court Reforms Arising from the Criminal Procedure (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2004 (2007) Edinburgh, Scottish Executive.

F Leverick and P Duff, Adjournments of Summary Criminal Cases in the Sheriff Courts (2001) Edinburgh, Scottish Executive.

J Chalmers, P Duff, F Leverick and Y Melvin, “The High Court (‘Bonomy’) reforms: an evaluation” 2007 Scots Law Times 173-178.

P Duff and F Leverick, “Court culture and adjournments in criminal cases: a tale of four courts” [2002] Criminal Law Review 39-52.

P Duff and F Leverick, “Adjournments of summary criminal cases in the Sheriff Courts” 2001 Scots Law Times 225-230.