New section 72 – preliminary hearing: procedure up to appointment of trial diet
12.Subsection (2) of the new section 72 applies in cases where the accused is prevented from conducting his defence in person. These are—
cases involving certain sexual offences as specified in section 288C of the 1995 Act, as inserted by the Sexual Offences (Procedure and Evidence) (Scotland) Act 2002 (asp 9);
cases involving child witnesses under the age of 12 in respect of certain offences specified in section 288E of the 1995 Act as inserted by the Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2004 (asp 3); and
cases involving vulnerable witnesses where the court has made an order under 288F(2) of the 1995 Act, as inserted by the Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2004.
13.Sections 288C, 288E and 288F prevent the accused from conducting his defence in person at the trial. Section 4 of the Act (on which, see below) extends the prohibition so that it also applies in the preliminary hearing. Subsection (2) of this section requires the High Court, as a first step in the preliminary hearing in such cases, to ascertain whether or not the accused has engaged a solicitor for the purposes of the preliminary hearing. If not, the Court will be able to appoint a solicitor under section 288D of the 1995 Act.
14.Subsection (3) provides that all preliminary pleas of which 7 days notice has been given shall be disposed of at this stage. Preliminary pleas are set out in section 79(2)(a) of the 1995 Act as substituted by section 13 of the Act.
15.Subsections (4) and (5) provide that after disposing of the preliminary pleas the accused shall be asked to plead to the indictment, and make clear that the existing procedure following a guilty plea set out in section 77 of the 1995 Act will continue to apply.
16.Subsections (6) and (7) set out the procedure to be followed once it is clear that the accused is pleading not guilty and the case will be going to trial. They provide for the court, in any case in which the accused is prohibited from conducting his defence in person (see above) to ascertain whether the accused has engaged a solicitor for his trial. They go on to provide that the court may dispose of any preliminary issues of which notice has been given, any child witness notice or vulnerable witness application appointed to be disposed of at the preliminary hearing, any application in relation to evidence of previous sexual conduct or the prohibition of the accused conducting his own defence in cases involving a vulnerable witness and any other matter which the court considers could be disposed of with advantage before the trial. The court must also ascertain whether there is any objection to the admissibility of any evidence which any party wishes to raise despite not having given due notice. If there is such an objection, the court must decide whether to grant leave for the objection to be raised and if leave is granted dispose of the objection unless it considers it inappropriate to do so at the hearing. It is also provided that the court must ascertain which witnesses on the Crown’s list are required by the parties and whether a vulnerable accused or witness requires any special measures to give their evidence. Finally, the court will enquire as to the state of preparedness of the parties and the extent to which they have sought to agree evidence as required by section 257 of the 1995 Act.
17.Subsection (8) makes further provision for dealing with matters which require an application or notice to the court, whether in relation to vulnerable witnesses or to a range of other evidential issues. It provides that the court is not required by the provisions of the new section to dispose of applications or notices unless they are made or lodged timeously according to the provisions relating to lodging and making of the application or notice. However, the court has the power to dispose of the application or notice out of time to the extent that those provisions allow for such disposal. Subsection (9) provides that where the court decides not to dispose of any preliminary matter at the preliminary hearing it may appoint a further hearing before the trial diet to do so; or it may appoint the matter to be disposed of at the trial diet.