Backlog of Scottish court cases ‘could take until 2026 to bring under control’

The backlog of court cases caused by the pandemic could take five years to bring "back under control", MSPs have been told.

David Fraser, executive director of court operations at the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, said current projections suggest it could take until 2026.

Referring to the delays, he said: "From a victim's perspective, it is a long time."

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The High Court in Edinburgh

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Scotland's most senior law officer previously called for radical measures to tackle the "extraordinary number" of sexual violence cases caught up in the backlog.

Dorothy Bain QC, who was appointed Lord Advocate earlier this year, said she was deeply troubled by the number of cases awaiting trial.

Giving evidence to Holyrood's criminal justice committee, Mr Fraser said: "In our current projections it will take us a couple of years, potentially 2026, before we get the backlog that has been created back under control."

He said the court system could go beyond its current recovery programme and "further increase our capacity”.

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However, Mr Fraser said there were "finite resources".

He added: "The key for me, within the court services, is making the best use of the slots we have available for trials to proceed.

"The biggest difference that could be made is for the prosecution and the defence to actually utilise the processes that we've got there, really get to a position where they are absolutely certain this case has to go to trial, and then it goes to trial.”

Scottish Tory MSP Jamie Greene said five years is “a long time to wait for your case to come round, whether you’re the accused of the victim”, adding: “It’s horrendous.”

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Mr Fraser agreed, adding: "Pre-Covid, if you look at the High Court, it would normally take us, for our part of the system, about 22 weeks from [a case’s] first appearance to actually trial diet. We are currently sitting at just under a year.”

Ms Bain recently said she would support a pilot of “judge-led” trials without a jury for serious sex crimes.

She said delays “predominantly and disproportionately affect women and children”.

The Lord Advocate told MSPs the solution “remains a political one”, adding: “It’s whether or not the Parliament is prepared to recognise the profound problems that we face in the prosecution of these very difficult cases because of the backlog.”

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