A new cross-justice initiative in place in South Strathclyde, Dumfries and Galloway (SSDG) is improving court safety and efficiency.
A key element of the initiative is that criminal justice and good behaviour reports are securely provided by the crown and the local authority social work departments 48 hours in advance of cases calling. As a result, certain hearings can be dealt with administratively by a sheriff which saves the prosecution, defence and accused from having to attend court.
The type of reports covered by the initiative includes: Criminal Justice Social Work Reports; Community Payback Order Reviews; Drug Treatment Testing Order Reviews; Structured Deferred Sentence Reports and Good Behaviour Reports.
Prior to the introduction of this initiative, in the majority of cases, these reports were not available until the morning of a hearing. In such cases, solicitors most often had to discuss the reports with clients in or just outside the court building. However, advance delivery allows these reports to be sent to solicitors, via a secure email address, which means instructions can be taken from clients before arrival at court.
Receiving reports in advance also enables deferred sentences to be dealt with more efficiently. In the circumstances where an offender has been of good behaviour or there is a positive report, the Sheriff may consider the matter in chambers prior to the diet and admonish or fix a further diet/review administratively – this means there may be no need for the accused, prosecution or defence to attend. Where a report is not available, and the Sheriff is satisfied of the reasons, the hearing can also be continued administratively.
The initiative commenced on 20 January, and since then more than 200 cases have been dealt with administratively.
We spoke to Ross Yuill, Solicitor Advocate, Director The Glasgow Law Practice who said:
This initiative is certainly very welcome.
It is vital to keep everyone safe and reduce footfall in courts where possible.
I am aware that certain reports have been available electronically to Advocates and Solicitor Advocates in High Court proceedings for some time.The transition to providing these reports in Sheriff Court proceedings will be very helpful.
It would also be a big advantage to have this system rolled out across all jurisdictions to allow a uniform approach to the electronic provision of reports.
SSDG Sheriff Principal Aisha Anwar said:
“The courts are working hard to keep footfall within our buildings to a minimum to ensure the safety of all participants during the ongoing coronavirus restrictions.
“This initiative is another great example of collaboration across the justice sector agencies. The arrangements are working well to reduce the numbers attending court and to improve the efficiency of how our business is conducted.
“I would like to thank all those across the justice system, particularly the local authorities, who have worked together to make this happen.”
A spokesman for South Lanarkshire Council and North Lanarkshire Council social work departments said:
“We have been working in partnership with our court colleagues on this project. Because they have been providing maximum notice of report requests, we have been able to produce court reports 48 hours earlier than would otherwise be the case.
“The temporary arrangement was agreed to support a reduction in court footfall in the context of a pandemic and we have been glad to work together to do this as part of the wider response to Covid-19.”
The Dean of the Faculty in Ayrshire, Euan Terras, said:
“The safety and wellbeing for all who are having to attend court just now is paramount and so I welcome this initiative which will reduce the amount of unnecessary visits to the courts by solicitors and their clients.”