I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
New clause 6 has been tabled to create a unified and streamlined appeals structure. Currently, there are various types of appeals such as bills of suspension and bills of advocation under section 228 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1975. The new clause is designed to harmonise procedures—hence subsection (2) of it. It would also harmonise the form of all appeals and make them much more straightforward and less convoluted. It would allow for all types of appeals to be subject to a single time limit of 14 days as opposed to the present varying time limits. For example, a written intimation of intention of appeal must be lodged within 14 days, a written note of appeal within six weeks and a note of appeal against sentence within two weeks. There is already provision in the Bill for the extension of appeals and our new clause would not touch that.
Sections 76(a) and 334(2)(a) of the 1975 Act deal with appeals from preliminary diets. Those diets deal with matters of competency, relevancy, pleas in bar of trial and any other miscellaneous matters required to be raised. An appeal from a decision at a preliminary diet must be taken two days after such decision and, therefore, the 14-day time limit in the new clause should not be relevant.
Section 228(a) and (c) deal with an appeal on indictment against conviction and against conviction and sentence. Those sections have been excluded because when there is an appeal against conviction, an intimation of intention to appeal is lodged and the specific grounds of appeal are not usually framed until the accused and his representatives receive a copy of the judge's charge to the jury. The 14-day time limit would therefore be inappropriate because the judge's charge to the jury is not normally received until six to eight weeks after the appeal against conviction is marked. With those comments in mind, we offer the new clause for the Government's consideration.
The new clause seeks to introduce a uniform time limit for all appeals, as the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) has suggested, excluding appeals from preliminary diets and solemn appeals against conviction or conviction and sentence. As the drafting of the new clause implicitly acknowledges, however, by excluding certain categories of appeal the time limit which should reasonably be allowed for the lodging of an appeal must depend on the complexity of the particular type of appeal procedure involved.
We believe that to impose a uniform time limit would remove the current flexibility, since the time limit is individually set to suit the nature of each specific appeal procedure. In some cases, a time limit of 14 days would be longer than is necessary and would needlessly delay proceedings; in other more complex appeals, such a time limit would be too short and would result in frequent applications to the court to extend the time limit on cause shown.
It has been suggested that the new clause would enable a single form to be used which would cover all the essential information required and cut the number of forms currently in use. In fact, the form used in each appeal procedure is specified by act of adjournal made by the High Court and the new clause would not change that. It is for the High Court to decide whether a separate form is required for each type of appeal or whether certain types of appeal could use a combined form. It would not be appropriate for that to be prescribed in primary legislation.
I hope that the hon. Member for Dumbarton will acknowledge that it is more appropriate to retain the current flexibility in specifying the time limit individually for each type of appeal procedure and to leave with the High Court the discretion to determine the most appropriate forms of appeal. I urge the hon. Gentleman not to press the new clause.
I agree entirely with the Minister's views on the need for the flexibility of the High Court, but there is also a need for simplicity and harmonisation, which is absent at the moment. I ask the Government to consider that in future legislation. Meanwhile, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.