Solicitors in West Lothian question court safety measures amid new Covid variant



Solicitors in West Lothian will move to adjourn future trial diets as concern over the safety of courts in Scotland grows.

The Faculty of West Lothian Solicitors has endorsed the response of the Glasgow Bar Association to the Lord President, Lord Carloway, who this week said failure to comply with court safety rules may constitute contempt of court.

In a letter to Livingston Sheriff Court, Greg Douglas, dean of Faculty of West Lothian Solicitors, said that Lord Carloway seemed to be suggesting “that criminal court business should simply continue as before, with no further safeguards or mitigations” despite the fact the UK is at the epicentre of a new variant of Covid-19 which is thought to be up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the earlier form of the virus.

He said: “Respectfully, our members strongly disagree with that position. Indeed, we understand that criminal court practitioners across Scotland strongly disagree with that position.”

Mr Douglas raised a number of points casting doubt on the safety of courts in the current lockdown. He questioned why courts could be kept open if schools could not; whether the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) had undertaken a fresh risk assessment and also cited various situations in which client consultations on court premises were unavoidable.

He said it was not clear “why the type of protections understandably provided to court staff have not been extended to court practitioners, for example, by way of the provision of perspex screens in interview rooms and at the front of the court dock and witness box”.

Nor was he confident about safety measures during criminal trials.

Mr Douglas said: “Our view is that in such cases, it can no longer be considered safe for what may be as many as 8 people to be within an enclosed, unventilated room, for what will often be an extended period of several hours.

“In those circumstances, our members are of the view that for the health and safety of all concerned, they will have no option but to move to adjourn future trial diets until the various concerns arising from the worsening public health situation have been resolved.”

An SCTS spokesperson told Scottish Legal News: “The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service follow very clear guidance from Public Health Scotland on the measures that are required to minimise the potential transmission of the virus and on how the courts can continue to operate safely under the current restrictions.

“Court buildings and courtrooms adhere strictly to that guidance. While there is an increased risk of transmission from the new variant of Covid, the current clinical advice is that provided the FACTS guidance is followed, the working environment will be as safe as possible.”