Long cases Practice Note

Lady Dorrian, the Lord Justice Clerk, yesterday launched a new initiative to ensure that complex High Court cases are kept within reasonable time limits.

She introduced this year’s first High Court Practice Note, “The Management of Lengthy or Complex Criminal Cases” at a gathering of judges and practitioners in the High Court in Glasgow. The Practice Note includes a protocol that is the result of collaboration between the judiciary, the Crown Office and the legal profession. The Protocol aims to ensure that trials involving complex crimes, or multiple accused, are kept within reasonable time limits. This will promote best use of public resources and enable a jury to better remember and assess evidence.

The Protocol calls for judges to manage cases from ‘cradle to grave’ with an early, detailed understanding of their complexities.

Primarily aimed at cases likely to last 8 weeks or more, it calls for:

  • prosecutors to provide an early outline of key facts and evidence
  • defence agents to provide an early statement
  • better use of uncontroversial evidence being agreed in advance of trial
  • better use of focused evidence during trial.

This will enable the Court to address the real issues of dispute in a case.

The Protocol suggests that most cases should be completed within 3 months, and this should be exceeded only in exceptional circumstances. It states: “The intention is not for the judges to take control, but for the judge to direct and manage the efforts of those involved in a flexible way which assists identification of key issues, enables the trial to focus on the primary issues in dispute, and keeps the eventual trial within manageable limits.”

In her speech launching the Protocol, Lady Dorrian thanked all those involved. She told guests from across the justice system: “It has been most encouraging to receive such broad support for the initiative, and what it aims to achieve.”

She added: “Ultimately, as the text of the protocol explains, ‘the judge will try to generate a spirit of co-operation between the court and the advocates on all sides. The expeditious conduct of the trial and a focussing on the real issues must be in the interests of all parties’. I sincerely hope that these new measures will be received in a similar spirit, and that their implementation will encourage commitment and creativity in lengthy and complex proceedings in our criminal courts in a fair and efficient manner.” 

Also speaking at the launch were the Lord Advocate, James Wolffe QC, the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, Gordon Jackson QC, and the President of the Law Society of Scotland, Graham Matthews. The Lord Advocate said the Practice Note had been built on “mutual respect” and reflected lessons learned from previous complex prosecutions. The Dean of the Faculty gave his support saying that the aims of the Practice Note could be achieved in the “spirit of co-operation” where respect was given to both the defence and the prosecution. The President of the Law Society for Scotland added that the move towards best evidence was something that could be welcomed by everyone, including juries.

See the Practice Note.

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