110-day remand rule may change

THE 110-day rule, which limits the time an accused can be held in custody awaiting trial and which is often described as a jewel in the crown of Scotland’s criminal justice system, could be sacrificed in an effort to cure the “shambles” of the High Court.
A judge given the task of finding a solution for the woe of constant delays in cases is known to have looked in depth at the ramifications of the historic rule in an era when the court is struggling to cope with an ever-increasing workload.

It is understood that Lord Bonomy will tell the Scottish Executive that some change is needed. Few observers believe he will suggest an end to the time-limit, but is more likely to opt for a longer period of 140 or 150 days, with a preliminary hearing to ensure the case is ready or to identify any problems and have those resolved in time for the trial. Such a move would not be universally approved.

William Taylor, QC, a senior defence counsel, said: “It would be a matter of concern to everyone with an interest in civil liberties in Scotland if the time-honoured 110-day rule were abandoned or qualified in such a way that individuals were kept in custody for longer. The presumption of innocence is a principle jealously to be guarded in a democratic society.”

Lord Bonomy has been an outspoken critic of inefficiency in the High Court, where crimes such as murder, rape and armed robbery are tried. Cases are often postponed at or just before the scheduled trial, causing distress for victims and inconvenience for prospective jurors and witnesses.

Last year, Lord Bonomy was appointed to head a review of the High Court. He said then: “There are no boundaries … nothing is off-limits. If I think it is appropriate to make recommendations about something like the 110-day rule, I will do so.”

He has now completed his report, which will be published in a few weeks. The 110-day rule has been held up as a great virtue of the legal system in Scotland, preventing the accused from languishing in jail on remand for many months, as can happen in England and elsewhere.

One defence lawyer said: “It used to work when there were fewer cases and the Crown could serve indictments sooner. A maximum remand period of, say, 140 days would not be totally unrealistic, so long as the time given to the Crown to serve an indictment remains the same.”