Scotland politics

'Radical' digital shake-up proposal for Scots courts

Courtroom
Image caption The proposals would see fewer pre-trial hearings take place in courtrooms

A "radical digital transformation" of Scotland's court system has been proposed, which could see many hearings in criminal cases conducted online.

A proposal paper from the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service (SCTS) said all pre-trial procedure should be done digitally unless pleas are contested.

It also proposes sentencing being conducted online in some cases.

Chief Executive Eric McQueen said it was time to "reconsider fundamentally how our services are delivered".

The SCTS is to hold a series of "discussion events" around Scotland to gather views on the proposals, which aim to speed up legal proceedings and see fewer witnesses cited to attend court.

Mr McQueen said "summary criminal court procedure has not kept pace" with technological innovation, with Scotland using Victorian-era systems which "still rely heavily on paper transactions, postal-based practices and bringing people together in a court room for procedural hearings and trials".

'Inherent inefficiency'

The paper notes an Audit Scotland report that highlighted that this "brings inherent inefficiency, delay and inconvenience", noting an excess of "churn" in the system.

The SCTS said "much of the procedure that is currently conducted in court rooms can and should be conducted digitally", with "stricter case management rules and set timescales at the core of the process".

Proposals include:

  • An option for online sentencing in cases where guilty pleas have been tendered, "without the need for a court appearance on the part of the accused", if deemed appropriate by the sheriff or justice of the peace overseeing the case.
  • All pre-trial procedure would take place as part of a new digital case management system, except in the case of contested pre-trial pleas.
  • Digital evidence would "increasingly become the norm", via a digital evidence and information "vault".
  • Stronger judicial overnight of case management, with more agreement of evidence in advance, "to ensure summary trials focus on what is truly in dispute".
  • Changes to when witnesses are cited to appear in court, to cut down the number of witnesses "cited and inconvenienced".

Mr McQueen said: "I am pleased to introduce this paper which describes what a new summary criminal court process could look like underpinned by digital case management.

"Our task now is to bring our summary criminal court procedure right into the 21st Century, not by tinkering at the edges, but by radical digital transformation to improve the quality of justice for all concerned.

"I am convinced that by having the right dialogue with the right people, we can realise that possibility."

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