A new scheme which aims to cut the number of trials calling in the country’s sheriff courts gets underway today.

The initiative will see sheriffs given more control over the management of summary cases in a bid to see them resolved at the earliest opportunity.

It is hoped the pilot, which will run in Dundee, Hamilton and Paisley Sheriff Courts initially, will reduce the number of trials and the number of witnesses called unnecessarily.

The scheme also aims to reduce the need for full disclosure of all material information in the case from the Crown Office.

Judicially led by respective Sheriffs Principal, the pilot will run for at least 18 months and will be monitored and evaluated throughout that time.

Sheriff Principal of North Strathclyde Duncan Murray, based as Paisley Sheriff Court, said: “Much work has been undertaken to see the pilot commence.

“It applies to all summary cases in Dundee, Hamilton and Paisley, which call for the first time, on or after 6 January, unless the case proceeds as a custody trial.

“The pilot will provide an opportunity to assess how more active case management works and how this may be enhanced in future by legislative change or digital processing.

“Monitoring of the outcomes achieved in the three courts will provide an evidence base to support future developments.”

A practice note issued on the pilot provides guidance on the actions the Crown Office and defence lawyers will be expected to have completed at different stages of the court hearing process.

It states that ahead of the accused’s first appearance in court, a summary of evidence should be provided to the defence agent by the Crown and the agent should have had “meaningful discussion”with the accused.

At the first calling of the case, defence lawyers will be asked if they have discussed the summary of evidence with their client, then both the Crown and the defence will be asked to submit a form detailing their preparedness for trial at the next hearing.

It is hoped the scheme will encourage earlier engagement between prosecutors and defence agents, and allow time for cases that cannot be resolved to go to trial earlier.

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service said it will work collaboratively with the Crown Office, Police Scotland and the Scottish Legal Aid Board to implement the initiative.

The results of the pilot will be used to look at the possibility of a wider roll-out across the country.

In further moves to improve efficiency in the prosecution of crime, the Scottish Government is currently involved in a tendering process to find a provider for a new digital evidence sharing programme.

Used by the Crown Office, Police Scotland, the court service and defence lawyers, the digital scheme has the potential to significantly reduce costs involved in managing and transporting evidence such as CCTV footage, video interviews and forensic images in physical form.