A Fife MSP has called for progress on plans for a new state of the art justice centre in Kirkcaldy.
The call comes as Claire Baker, the Mid Scotland and Fife member, reveals figures which show the number of adjournments of criminal trials is up 14 per cent on last year and 65 per cent in the past five years.
Statistics released to Ms Baker, from the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, show the total number of adjournments has risen from 755 in 2012/13 to 1090 in 2015/16 and 1243 last year. This is a rise of 64 per cent in the past five years.
Adjournments due to a lack of court time has also risen dramatically in the past five years. The total number was 107 in 2012/13 rising to 148 in 2015/16 and increasing again to 231 last year. This is a rise of 115 per cent in the past five years and 56 per cent since 2015/16.
The Scottish Labour politician has been calling for a new justice centre for the area after a 2012 consultation from the Scottish Court Services highlighted the need for change in Kirkcaldy.
According to the report, “Kirkcaldy would be a more appropriate location for a sheriff and jury centre serving East Fife.” The report highlighted that this was not immediately feasible due to the fact “that the accommodation available at Kirkcaldy is not of the standard we would wish.”
The Scottish Government has already backed a similar justice centre in Inverness, with funding of £23 million.
Earlier this year there were reports that jury trials may be moved out of Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court and instead held in the local police station.
Claire Baker MSP said: “The current building in Kirkcaldy is no longer fit for purpose and the Court Service admit that themselves.
“As the stats show, the problems facing Kirkcaldy Sherriff Court have gotten worse since 2012, not better. We have seen the Scottish Government come forward and back a state of the art jury centre in Inverness, they must now do so in Kirkcaldy.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) said the creation of the Inverness Justice Centre will set a new standard for the future provision of justice services and this is an approach the service hopes to be able to replicate in other areas – particularly Fife where there is widespread support for a similar facility in Kirkcaldy.
The spokesman said: “A full scale Kirkcaldy Justice Centre would come at a significant cost for all justice organisations and take many years planning. Therefore, with financial support from Scottish Government we are now finalising plans which will vastly improve our court services in Kirkcaldy for all victims and witnesses and ensure that justice is delivered locally.
“Performance at Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court remains strong and continues to improve, with summary trials being offered within the agreed 16 week period. In recent years the reporting and detection of crimes, particularly domestic abuse and sexual offences, has increased, reflecting proactive policing and prosecution and greater victim confidence to report crimes.
“These cases have not only increased in volume but are more complex cases often requiring more court time, with the number of cases proceeding to trial increasing by almost 30 per cent. With more cases going to trial there is clearly an increase in related adjournments.
“However, we are not in any way complacent. The SCTS has proposed some of the most radical court reforms in decades in our “Follow Up Report to the New Model for Summary Criminal Court Procedure” published in September 2017.
“This calls for the development of summary procedures to allow for a more streamlined, digitally-enabled justice process, using digitised evidence as far as possible, controlled within a case management system, with the objective to minimise the need for face-to-face hearings in court.”
He continued: “The potential for improvements to be made is substantial. During 2014-15 more than 52,000 summary criminal trials were arranged, of which only around 9000 actually proceeded to a trial. Our proposals for a digital case management system could substantially reduce the number of witnesses cited to court, reduce repeated hearings (known as “churn”), and reduce cases that drag on for many months only to be resolved without a trial ever taking place.”
He added: “SCTS is working with organisations across the justice system to bring forward proposals to Scottish Government.”