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Evaluation of the reforms to summary criminal legal assistance and disclosure

Court of justice
Researchers: Paul Bradshaw
Published: July 2012

Aim

We assessed the extent to which Scottish reforms to summary criminal legal assistance and disclosure had achieved specific policy objectives and contributed to the provision of a summary justice system that is fair, efficient, effective and quick and simple in delivery.

Findings

Cases are now being resolved earlier in the process

There has been an increase in the proportion of cases with a guilty plea at pleading diet.

Custody cases, in particular, showed a significant increase in guilty plea rates at pleading diet (first court hearing); by June 2010, the guilty plea rate was 44%, almost double that of the pre-reform rate of 23%.

Economic costs are unchanged

Sheriff summary cases now cost an average of £405 (13%) less to process since the reforms.

But when costs associated with disposals are removed, there is almost no change to the costs since:

  • custodial sentences – the most expensive option – are now less likely to be imposed;
  • financial penalties – significantly cheaper – are more likely to be imposed.

Mixed impact on case preparation

  • 60% of defence solicitors said there had been no change to their level of client contact since the reforms;
  • around a quarter (24%) said their client contact had decreased;
  • 16% said it had increased.

Reforms have contributed to early case resolution

More than 70% of defence solicitors considered the information contained in disclosable summaries was ‘very helpful’ or ‘quite helpful’ in advising their clients how to plead.  

Many interviewees believed discussions between Fiscal and defence were more productive since both parties now had access to the same information.

Many interviewees and survey respondents believed the reforms have had an influence on the increase in early pleas.

  • 38% of solicitors said they themselves were now more likely to advise an early guilty plea
  • 57% believed other solicitors were now more likely to advise an early guilty plea.

Methodology

  • Qualitative data from in-depth, face-to-face and telephone interviews with criminal justice professionals and accused individuals and from court observation.
  • Quantitative information on case trajectories and outcomes collated from administrative databases. 
  • National survey of defence solicitors.

Read the report