Aberdeen lawyers call for temporary courtrooms to tackle backlog of cases
Lawyers in Aberdeen have called for temporary courtrooms to be established to help tackle the increasing backlog of cases caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, as sheriff and jury trials have still not resumed.
The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) recently announced plans to restart High Court Trials in Edinburgh and Glasgow using cinemas to live stream the trial to juries, and it intends to extend this practice across Scotland.
However, there is a growing feeling among lawyers in Aberdeen that more needs to be done urgently to address the backlog of cases.
Stuart Murray, president of the Aberdeen Bar Association, told The Evening Express: “In trials which do not require a jury, the Aberdeen Bar Association can see no reason why courts cannot be physically adapted to allow witnesses, accused persons and court staff to remain safe, whilst being involved in the trial process.
“Courts could fairly easily be fitted with perspex screens, in the same way that shops, banks and other commercial premises have been adapted.
“The issue is, of course, more complex when making arrangements for Jury trials. Jurors are an essential part of the Scottish legal system and when giving up their valuable time to allow justice to be done, they must be protected from the virus.
“That being said, there are a number of buildings that in the opinion of the Aberdeen Bar Association, could be utilised locally, to allow Jury trial to begin again.”
Defence solicitor Mike Munro, a partner at Mackie & Dewar, has called for more to be done and suggested the P&J Live and Music Hall should be used to host temporary courtrooms.
He said that the backlog is “not fair on the accused, it’s not fair on complainers. They will have this hanging over them, they may be nervous, they may know the person who is alleged to have assaulted them.”
Another defence lawyer, Lynn Bentley, a partner at Aberdein Considine, echoed these feelings. She criticised the Scottish government saying it “has done nothing with regard to getting sheriff and jury trials moving.”
She said that it was “shameful” that people presumed to be innocent awaiting trial remain remanded in custody for extended periods of time while the backlog continues to grow.
A spokesperson for the Scottish government said: “We understand the impact trial delays have on victims, witnesses and accused, and recently announced £5.5 million to establish the ground-breaking solution of remote jury centres which will allow the High Court to return to pre-COVID capacity.
“We are working tirelessly with partners, including victims groups, the Scottish courts and prosecution services, and the legal profession to quickly find the best possible way to deal with the backlog. This includes consideration of remote jury centres in sheriff and jury cases, optimising the use of the physical court estate within the prevailing public health requirements, increased use of digital technology where appropriate and additional support to organisations supporting victims.”