Leaders: Courting controversy as justice is threatened

Picture: Neil Hanna
Picture: Neil Hanna
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ANYONE who has sat in a Scottish courtroom will be only too aware of the inefficiencies of the system as they endure seemingly interminable delays and pauses in proceedings.

However, what we did not know was the sheer scale of that inefficiency, which public spending watchdog Audit Scotland has revealed today is £10 million a year. That is a huge waste.

More than one in three cases take longer than the official target of 26 weeks – which is still a staggering six months.

The report comes as the Scottish Courts Service has suffered a 28 per cent cut in its budget from the Scottish Government – which has also reduced Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service spending by 14 per cent.

Rather predictably, ministers have blamed the reductions on budget cuts from Westminster.

Delays are common complaints from those involved in the court process. The system which is operated in our sheriff courts is a regular source of frustration for those who have to go through it.

The way things currently work, some court appearances are over in seconds, while others are called off at a moment’s notice.

Getting all those required to be present and correct at the right time at court is another challenge.

Then we have to consider wasted police officers’ time, when their presence as witnesses takes them away from regular duties – at a time when Police Scotland is already stretched.

Too often, officers spend considerable periods waiting to appear, only for them not to be required in the end.

However, of even greater importance is that the length of time it takes to process a case can have a fundamental effect on justice.

Witnesses forget events and faces – and then bang goes the case for the prosecution, and the chances of securing a conviction.

The process must be speeded up and made more efficient.

Counsel who ask for more time to prepare for hearings may have to be put on tighter timetables by those on the bench. And should sheriffs continue to grant such requests?

The very significant closure of ten sheriff courts across the country makes it vital the system operates more efficiently than before.

The remaining courts have had to take a greater volume of cases, and there is a danger of them becoming overburdened considering their available resources.

Labour has warned that the “near total erosion in public confidence and trust” in Scotland’s single national police force must not be seep into the country’s legal system.

So it’s a simple plea, your Honour: more efficiency, less waste please.

Dredging up problems for fishing

RESTRICTIONS on fishing in Scotland are always controversial.

The proposal by the Scottish Government to create marine protected areas is no different.

It is aimed at safeguarding fragile areas from scallop dredging and prawn trawlers.

Unsurprisingly, the move is unpopular.

At least three fishing associations on the west coast have said their members would be directly affected.

They described the plans as “draconian”, warn of a “severe” impact on employment, and said the impact had been “grossly underestimated”.

Industry leaders have also claimed fishing boats will be driven into more dangerous waters, which could put not just jobs but lives at risk.

Strong words, but any measure which could threaten jobs and livelihoods will not have been taken lightly by government officials, experts and ministers.

The Scottish Government’s Marine Scotland directorate, which reviewed the evidence used to justify the new zones, found them to be “appropriate, well-founded, and well-evidenced”.

Equally significantly, Scottish waters have to be protected because the effects of dredging can be extremely serious for marine life. This is effectively an industrial process, so it is only right that measures should be in place to control how much is allowed to takes place.

For fish stocks to replenish, their habitats must be safeguarded to ensure long-term survival.

This will be a tough decision for the fishing community, but the greater good must prevail.