Covid-19: Majority of summary trials to be adjourned

Covid-19: Majority of summary trials to be adjourned

Lord Carloway

As a result of the increasing spread of the new variant of Covid-19 across Scotland, the Lord President, Lord Carloway has announced that during the lockdown period the criminal courts will focus on the most serious trials and the majority of summary trials in the Sheriff Court and Justice of the Peace Court will be adjourned. 

This will reduce the overall number of criminal trials taking place during lockdown by up to 75 per cent.

New arrangements will be introduced in Scotland’s courts from tomorrow, in order to support the public health response to the pandemic.

These will significantly reduce the number of people required to attend court in person, whilst ensuring that the most essential business is maintained in the interests of justice and the safety of those involved.

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service said in a statement: “The Lord President has been clear in setting business priorities. All criminal jury trials in the High Court and Sheriff Court must continue. These will focus on the most serious cases, where people are in custody and where the nature of the alleged offence, including sexual offences and offences involving domestic abuse and children, demand that priority be given.

“From tomorrow all new custody cases and summary custody trials in the Sheriff Courts and Justice of the Peace courts will proceed. All non-custody trials will be administratively adjourned, with the provision to accelerate priority or urgent trials, such as those involving allegations of domestic abuse or child witnesses. A number of procedural hearings will also be administratively adjourned.

“All criminal appeals, the Bail Appeal Court, Office of the Public Guardian and Tribunals will continue to operate virtually and remotely, as they have been doing throughout the pandemic.

“Similarly the vast majority of all civil business in the Court of Session and Sheriff Court will continue to be conducted remotely. This includes the All Scotland Personal Injury Court (ASSPIC) and the Sheriff Appeal Court (SAC).”

President of the Law Society of Scotland, Amanda Miller, said: “The limited number of cases to be heard inside court buildings must be dealt with as safely as possible. Regrettably, this has not been the experience of many solicitors over recent weeks. Even with this proposed reduction in business, the Court Service needs to move rapidly to ensure their buildings are able to conduct the business safely and effectively.”

She added: “There is also the immediate challenge of protecting those solicitors who are struggling most from the sudden reduction in work. Last month, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice announced a new Covid resilience fund for legal aid firms. Given today’s announcement, the Scottish government must look to expand the fund and speed up delivery of this essential financial support. Without urgent funding, there is a real risk of firms going under, creating an access to justice crisis across the country.”

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “The Lord President has made clear that all of Scotland’s courts remain open and that all criminal jury trials in the High Court and Sheriff Court will continue. Remote juries will continue to play an important part in supporting access to justice in weeks ahead. The reduction in the overall number of criminal trials taking place during lockdown by up to 75 per cent will see fewer people moving to, from and within court buildings due to the significant reduction in summary trials – helping to further reduce the risks of virus transmission.

“I also welcome the fact that most non-criminal court business, on important civil and family cases, will continue. I am grateful to the SCTS, Crown Office and others for working rapidly through the issues over the weekend, and in doing so reflecting feedback from the legal profession and other court users. The Scottish government will continue to work with justice organisations and victims representatives in the weeks and months ahead, to consider all options to respond to the inevitable increase in cases awaiting trial, as well as the wider impact of the on-going public health challenges across the justice system.”

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