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South Scotland success in cutting backlog


Oct 19, 2020

A judge-led initiative in courts across the South of Scotland is proving successful in reducing the backlog of summary court cases caused by the coronavirus pandemic.


Currently, many sheriff court cases scheduled for trial resolve by an agreed guilty plea between the prosecutor and the defence agent. However this often takes place on the day that the trial is due to start, which means that witnesses attend unnecessarily and a slot in the court programme is used, preventing another case from proceeding to trial.

Sheriff Principal Aisha Anwar has now facilitated weekly ‘court surgeries’ which enable physically distanced discussion between the defence and the prosecution to resolve cases at an earlier stage.

Initially piloted at Hamilton Sheriff Court, the bespoke surgeries have now been set up in Ayr, Airdrie, Dumfries, Lanark, and Stranraer.

The initiative has proven successful with almost 90% of cases discussed resolving early, freeing up space in the court programme for significantly more cases to proceed to trial. Approximately 300 cases have resolved in 17 surgeries across the area. In Hamilton alone, the initiative has addressed 10% of the outstanding trials as at August 2020.

Sheriff Principal Anwar said: “This excellent collaborative effort across the justice sector is making significant inroads into the backlog of trials caused by the pandemic and will increase court capacity in South Strathclyde, Dumfries and Galloway. Not only are the surgeries increasing the efficiency of the courts, but they are also preventing witnesses and complainers from attending unnecessarily. It is a positive outcome for all involved.”

Mark O’Hanlon, Dean of the Hamilton Bar, said: “The surgery is proving a success with almost 90% of cases calling at it being resolved. As a result of this over 300 trials have been removed from the backlog of court cases with all agencies working together. This has saved hundreds of victims of crime and witnesses having to attend trial. It has also allowed accused persons with cases potentially hanging over them for months or longer to have them resolved now, allowing them to get on with their lives. We continue to liaise with our justice partners about other initiatives to further ease the burden on the court system.”

Les Brown, Procurator Fiscal for South Strathclyde, said: “This initiative has encouraged better and earlier communication between the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) and our criminal justice partners, and is shortening the journey time for victims and witnesses.

“The COPFS is committed to working collaboratively with our criminal justice partners in responding effectively to the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic.”