Section 8 — Manner of citation

Criminal Proceedings etc (Reform) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 9:30 am on 18th January 2007.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid None 9:30 am, 18th January 2007

Group 3 is on the role of judicial officers. Amendment 10, in the name of Kenny MacAskill, is grouped with amendments 11 to 19.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Such is the pace of change in our legislative process that, when I first embarked on these amendments, I think that we were talking about sheriff officers and messengers-at-arms. Changes have since taken place and we now have judicial officers. Whatever the officers are called, they go back a long time and they have served our judicial system well.

Changes that the bill will introduce and changes that have been initiated by the minister and by Elish Angiolini, both in her current office as Lord Advocate and in her previous office as Solicitor General for Scotland, will improve how witnesses are notified, cited and brought to court and will make improvements in other areas. Progress has been and continues to be made.

I differ from the minister in that I believe that the current system works well. Sheriff officers—or judicial officers as we now call them—deal with witness citations in civil proceedings; in criminal proceedings, they deal with citations on behalf of the defence. We may create a bureaucracy that works clinically and efficiently, but we already have a system that has served us well in civil matters and in defence citations. We have qualms and worries about e-mail and postal citations, but the ethos of all members—ministers and back benchers—is to stop the waste of police resources. We have a system that serves us well and we should retain it.

There seem to be two arguments against using judicial officers. There is a worry about how vulnerable witnesses are dealt with. However, judicial officers are well versed in dealing with people in difficult circumstances, such as children whom they have to cite in civil matters or people who have been traumatised. They are well trained and well regulated.

The second argument relates to costs, and is clearly legitimate. People have been worried that the costs for various services would be a huge burden, but judicial officers have made it clear—the amendments emphasise this—that there would be a different set of tables and different arrangements. There has been no suggestion that existing rates for the processing of witness citations would be the same if prosecution citations were passed to judicial officers. With the caveat that we meet the needs of vulnerable witnesses and address the costs to the public purse, we believe that we should retain a system that has served us well and continues to serve us well, and that we should seek to enhance the profession rather than seek to create a new profession and all the apparatus that goes with it.

I move amendment 10.

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative

As Kenny MacAskill said, judicial officers, sheriff officers and messengers-at-arms have a special place in Scots law. They are experienced, have an excellent track record and have proved themselves to be professional. Such officers are certainly equipped for the 21 st century.

Currently, citations are served by the police or the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service by post. There is no doubt that the police, the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents and the Scottish Police Federation are in favour of messengers-at-arms or sheriff officers—now judicial officers—taking over that role, which would free up time for front-line duties that police currently spend on discharging that duty. There is an advantage to be had here. I have sympathy with Kenny MacAskill in that, as the judicial officer system is established, there would be no start-up costs as there will be for fines enforcement officers. Also, judicial officers' fees are regulated and, as has been stated, open to negotiation.

The crucial point to remember is that the creation of fines enforcement officers will not in itself ensure that the legislation is used. If we wanted any proof of that, we need only look to the fact that existing legislation does what the Executive seeks to do in cases of wilful fine default. Arrestment of earnings is allowed under sections 214(6) and 221 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995. Direct deduction of income support can be achieved under section 24 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991. My central point is that the creation of fines enforcement officers in itself will not ensure that more wilful fine defaulters will be dealt with in the way the bill envisages or that they will not be imprisoned, which is clearly not in anyone's best interest. Does the minister envisage enhancing the role of judicial officers or is she saying that fines enforcement officers will replace judicial officers? Her answer will determine how we vote.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

I will come back to Margaret Mitchell's point at the end of my contribution—whether fines enforcement officers are effective is a separate point. Although there is a crossover, the amendments in group 3 deal with something slightly different.

Kenny MacAskill's amendments 10 to 19 would provide that only judicial officers—formerly known as sheriff officers and messengers-at-arms—would be able to carry out certain functions, such as serving citations personally on witnesses and accused persons in criminal proceedings. At the moment, those citations can be served by officers of law, who include judicial officers but also the police, authorised civilian employees of the police and prison officers.

If, as I think Kenny MacAskill said, the objective of the amendments is to reduce the amount of police time that is required to serve citations, then I assure members that we agree with that aim and are working hard to achieve it. I do not believe that the amendments are the best way to achieve further progress. I will outline some of the work that is under way before explaining why the amendments could be extremely damaging to the operation of Scotland's criminal justice system.

Since 2003, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, which is responsible for the citation of the accused and prosecution witnesses, has issued postal citations for most witnesses in summary cases, which covers the vast majority of cases before the courts. In April 2006, that use of postal citation was extended to civilian witnesses in sheriff and jury cases with the important exception of witnesses with special requirements, such as children, vulnerable adults and witnesses whose first language is not English. Those special classes of witnesses need some form of police involvement.

Postal citation has proved to be an extremely effective system. It is more convenient for witnesses than traditional citation in person. Since 2003, about 76,000 citations have been issued each year by ordinary post to civilian witnesses, who responded to them positively. By virtue of the fact that the witness signs and returns a receipt for postal citation, the witness is giving a personal commitment. That underlines the importance of witnesses attending court to give evidence.

The bill already provides for additional methods of citation for witnesses and accused in order to reduce the need for citation in person. The accused as well as witnesses will be able to be cited by first-class post. E-mail citation is an option that we will also consider and develop, although there must be confidence in that process. It has already been piloted with success for police witnesses in one city-centre division in Glasgow. Over 18,000 citations were sent by e-mail leading to savings in police time and resources. Less police overtime was needed as notification of the case came earlier, which allowed more time to accommodate the alteration of shift patterns. On average, officers received their citations five days earlier than before and less police time was wasted at court as there was earlier notification of cases that would not go ahead. That made it possible for police officers to be on the front line rather than stuck in court for cases that were not called. The wider roll-out of the pilot is now planned.

A number of police forces are now using civilian staff to serve their witness citations, which ensures that police time is freed up to deal with higher priorities. I welcome that practice and hope that it will develop further.

In a number of cases in which personal citation is required, the police already have information or intelligence as to the whereabouts of the individual in question, which they can use to ensure that the citation is served effectively. There will always be some cases where postal citation of civilian witnesses will not be successful. Some civilian witnesses are reluctant to attend court for a number of reasons. The retention of police delivery of citations to such witnesses allows the witness to ask questions of the police. The police are well placed to offer reassurance and assistance should that be required.

The bill allows citations to be effected by judicial officers. The effect of Kenny MacAskill's amendments would be to put judicial officers in a monopoly position. Service could be effected only by judicial officers. Is it right that it should only be private businesses that can play that important part in the criminal justice system? Police officers could no longer serve any citations and prison officers could no longer serve documentation, including indictments, on accused people who are in prison. Judicial officers would have to be instructed at a cost to come from their office into the prison, walk past the prison officer who used to be able to serve documents and serve the indictment. That would be good work for the judicial officers but not good value for the public purse.

There are other serious problems with the practicality of the amendments. Not every court district has resident judicial officers and some of the island courts and more remote areas do not have judicial officers nearby. The police, by their very nature, have some form of local presence. Would court business have to be programmed to accommodate visits to such courts from judicial officers?

In summary cases where the accused appears from custody, a judicial officer would have to be in the custody area of the court to serve the complaint on the accused. What if there were no resident judicial officer who could serve the complaint? Would the court have to wait until the judicial officer attended from his office, which might be miles away? Would the accused have to be liberated until a judicial officer could attend?

The bill as introduced provides for additional methods of service on the accused; it does not rule out the use of judicial officers. In no way does our position refuse to acknowledge the work and expertise of judicial officers. It is important to keep our options open in this area, while seeking to ensure that police involvement is minimised. That is what we are working on. Amendments 10 to 19 would build in delay and risk and would place private companies in a monopoly position at a time when we are developing the service of citations through a variety of initiatives.

Margaret Mitchell and others will be aware that the role of fines enforcement officers goes far beyond simply delivering a citation. They manage cases, look at the person in the round, consider their other debts and whether fines are due to other courts, and carry out the critical job of separating those who cannot pay from those who will not pay. The role of fines enforcement officers ought not to be misunderstood. Although there is a role for judicial officers, I do not support what Kenny MacAskill proposes in these amendments. I ask him to withdraw amendment 10 and not to move the other amendments in his name.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

I have listened with interest to the minister and we sympathise and agree fully with much of what she said—our dispute is simply to do with the method by which we achieve it. However, it is a bit rich to castigate the creation of a monopoly of private outfits given what has happened with prison transfers. If that is such a matter of objection, we might need to reconsider whether Reliance should have a monopoly. I will press amendment 10.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

The question is, that amendment 10 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

There will be a division. As this is the first vote, I suspend the meeting for five minutes while the division bell is rung.

Meeting suspended.

On resuming—

Division number 1

For: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brownlee, Derek, Crawford, Bruce, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Gibson, Rob, Johnstone, Alex, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McLetchie, David, Mitchell, Margaret, Morgan, Alasdair, Munro, John Farquhar, Neil, Alex, Petrie, Dave, Robison, Shona, Scott, John, Stevenson, Stewart, Swinney, Mr John, Tosh, Murray, Watt, Ms Maureen, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra
Against: Baillie, Jackie, Baird, Shiona, Baker, Richard, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Murray, Dr Elaine, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stone, Mr Jamie, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan
Abstentions: Fox, Colin, Kane, Rosie

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

The result of the division is: For 31, Against 65, Abstentions 2.

Amendment 10 disagreed to.

Amendment 11 moved—[Mr Kenny MacAskill].

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

The question is, that amendment 11 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 2

For: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brownlee, Derek, Crawford, Bruce, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Fergusson, Alex, Fox, Colin, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Gibson, Rob, Johnstone, Alex, Kane, Rosie, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McLetchie, David, Mitchell, Margaret, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Petrie, Dave, Robison, Shona, Scott, John, Stevenson, Stewart, Swinney, Mr John, Tosh, Murray, Watt, Ms Maureen, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra
Against: Baillie, Jackie, Baird, Shiona, Baker, Richard, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stone, Mr Jamie, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

The result of the division is: For 32, Against 65, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 11 disagreed to.

Amendment 12 moved—[Mr Kenny MacAskill].

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

The question is, that amendment 12 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 3

For: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brownlee, Derek, Crawford, Bruce, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Fergusson, Alex, Fox, Colin, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Gibson, Rob, Johnstone, Alex, Kane, Rosie, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McLetchie, David, Mitchell, Margaret, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Petrie, Dave, Robison, Shona, Scott, John, Stevenson, Stewart, Swinney, Mr John, Tosh, Murray, Watt, Ms Maureen, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra
Against: Baillie, Jackie, Baird, Shiona, Baker, Richard, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stone, Mr Jamie, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

The result of the division is: For 32, Against 67, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 12 disagreed to.