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The Summary Justice Review Committee: Report to Ministers

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The Summary Justice Review Committee: REPORT TO MINISTERS

Chapter 6: ALIGNMENT OF BOUNDARIES

6.1 Sheriff court district and sheriffdom boundaries (and the police and Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service operating areas or divisions) have traditionally been set to achieve compatibility with local authority boundaries where possible. As a matter of policy and practice, both COPFS and ACPOS have adjusted their operational structures to be so aligned.

6.2 The last major re-organisation of the sheriff court district and sheriffdom boundaries was in 1975, following the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973. A primary effect of the re-organisation was, in most cases, to make local authority areas and sheriff court districts co-terminous. The sheriffdoms comprised areas described by reference to the appropriate local government areas. Subsequently, as a matter of policy, sheriff court district boundaries followed local authority boundaries.

6.3 The sheriff court district and sheriffdom boundaries were again reviewed in 1996, as a consequence of local government re-organisation. In considering whether or not re-alignment of sheriff court boundaries was appropriate, the following criteria were considered to be particularly relevant:

  • any change to sheriffdom/sheriff court district boundaries should not increase and, where practicable, should reduce inconvenience to court users;
  • any boundary changes should, if possible, not increase waiting periods or place courts in a position where they would subsequently fail to meet their targets; and
  • sheriffdoms and sheriff court district boundaries should, where practicable, cross as few local authority boundaries as possible.

6.4 These objectives were able to be achieved simultaneously in respect of the great majority of sheriffdoms/sheriff court districts. However, following the 1996 review, there remains an incongruity between certain sheriff court districts and local authority boundaries (mainly around Glasgow). This was mainly because alignment of the boundaries at that stage would have placed too much strain on neighbouring sheriff courts (Hamilton Sheriff Court in particular) following from what would have been a consequent transfer of business from Glasgow Sheriff Court. There is a particular incongruity in the Braehead area (between Glasgow and Paisley) which results in district court cases going to Paisley and sheriff court cases to Glasgow. Glasgow and Paisley are in different Sheriffdoms.

6.5 There are clear system management attractions in aligning the local authority and sheriff court district boundaries and in the alignment of COPFS and police areas accordingly. A combining of the sheriff court and district court estates presents an opportunity to realise the benefits of alignment of boundaries while avoiding placing undue pressure on particular courts.

6.6 The drawing of sheriffdom boundaries has less of an immediate operational and court user impact than the sheriff court district boundaries but we would expect them to be re-defined in accordance with any adjustment to sheriff court district boundaries. There would be attractions in having co-terminous arrangements at a sheriffdom as well as at a district level where that is practicable. This would support the effective operations of the national and local criminal justice boards. This suggests that it would also be advantageous to review the sheriffdom boundaries at the same time as a review of sheriff court district boundaries.

6.7 Boundaries should remain aligned and should not be further realigned by one or more partners in the criminal justice system without full consultation with other criminal justice interests prior to any realignment taking place.

We recommend that the opportunity presented by restructuring the summary court system should be used to ensure that sheriff court districts are, so far as is practicable, co-terminous with police and procurator fiscal operating areas and with local authority boundaries.

We recommend that any consequent re-definition of sheriffdom boundaries should, so far as is practicable, be aligned with police and COPFS operating areas and with local authority boundaries.

We recommend that any future review of local government, police, COPFS or court boundaries should provide for full consultation with all justice system interests.