Sheriff Court jury trials to start up again
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Scotland is facing a large case backlog. By March 2021 it is estimated that over 2000 Sheriff court jury trials will be outstanding. The High Courts in Edinburgh and Glasgow have started using Remote Jury Centres to help cases continue with appropriate social distancing.
The Scottish Government has now announced £6.5 million to enable the use of Remote Jury Centres by 18 Sheriff jury trial courts across the country, allowing them to re-start operations.
Jury centre venues for each of Scotland’s six Sheriffdoms are currently being sourced across Scotland with centres for Lothian and Borders Sheriffdom and Glasgow and Strathkelvin Sheriffdom expected to be in place by December. Other Sheriffdoms will follow in the early part of 2021. Sourcing further Centres will also allow for High Court sittings to take place in Aberdeen and Inverness.
Remote Jury Centres provide physically distanced facilities for juries which traditional courts cannot achieve currently.
Restarting High Court and Sherriff Court jury trials is welcome news for victims and witnesses, whose lives and mental health have been affected by case delays. While the Remote Jury Centres will restore the pre-Covid capacity, further measures are required to tackle the backlog and reduce timescales.
Kate Wallace, Chief Executive of Victim Support Scotland, commented:
“We welcome any move to reinvigorate trials that have been delayed as a result of Covid-19. The real life and negative impact that delays to trials have to people impacted by crime, cannot be underestimated.
“Earlier this year, Victim Support Scotland reported a staggering 400% increase in the number of people using our services expressing feeling suicidal, due in part to delays in trials going ahead. We have had huge concerns, alongside our partners, that the needs of victims have been neglected throughout the pandemic.
“While today’s announcement is to be welcomed, the justice sector must not rest in its laurels. There is still a mountain to climb for the justice sector to get back on its feet, with the reduction of the backlog just being one step in the right direction.”
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said:
“The introduction of remote jury centres for Sheriff Court trials will provide assurance to victims, witnesses and accused who have been adversely affected by case delays due to COVID-19.
“The Scottish Government has provided £6.5 million funding for these centres to be used across the country allowing Sheriff Court trials to proceed as quickly as possible.
“This is in addition to the £5.5 million already provided for High Court jury centres and £3 million for court technology. Excellent progress has already been made, including the resumption of High Court trials in Edinburgh this week using the remote jury centre.
“I am grateful to all those involved in the court service and across our justice system to address the challenges faced as a result of the pandemic and in getting to this point.”