First jury trial since lockdown a success

First jury trial since lockdown a success

The first jury trial in Scotland since lockdown ran smoothly this week and made use of digital technology to support a remote jury.

The case held at the High Court in Edinburgh followed a new format adhering to physical distancing guidelines and returned a verdict of not proven.

The jurors were located in a room separate from the trial courtroom where they were physically distanced and able to watch proceedings on screens directly in front on them. The use of cameras enabled an image of each juror to be visible in the courtroom on a video wall that sat in what was previously the jury box.

At one point the trial was adjourned so that defence counsel Iain McSporran QC, could speak to the accused privately at a safe physical distance.

Mr McSporran said: “The accused had a fair trial which worked very well. Any minor glitches were resolved immediately. I was really glad to be back at work and the success of this format was the result of the effort of many people including the judge, counsel, the clerk and the jury. The courts deserve our gratitude for the technological arrangements in place to allow jury trials to restart.”

When addressing the jury in their separate room, he said: “As the saying goes ‘I wish you were here’ but I am very glad that you are there.”

Alex Prentice QC, prosecuting, said: “Although it was a strange experience, the format was a success and I would like to pay tribute to the Court Service and all involved who put the package together. Physical distancing slowed the proceedings down a little and we had to remember to stand in a certain position to be seen by the camera, but that did not present a problem and the technology and the link to documents to the jury room worked very well. I would like to express my gratitude to the people who managed to make it happen.”

A second trial is also running in the High Court in Glasgow with a different model using three courtrooms.

President of the Scottish Criminal Bar Association, Ronnie Renucci QC, told Scottish Legal News: “The SCBA are delighted that jury trials are up and running once more in the High Court albeit at a limited capacity at present.

“Once the working group was set up under the auspices of Lady Dorrian we were in little doubt that a practical solution to the problem of conducting jury trials would be found.

“The trial that has just concluded in Edinburgh involved the radical and inventive use of technology allowing the jury to watch proceedings remotely from another courtroom. The advantage of this model is that not only do the jury not require to be in the courtroom, they do not even require to be in the court building.

“We understand that SCTS are considering radical ways of developing this model further and they are to be applauded for doing so because removing the jury from the court building itself would allow the freeing up of much-needed court space that would allow for the gradual and sustainable return of High Court trials running at, or near, the level they were at prior to lockdown.”

Mr Renucci praised SCTS staff, whose “work, effort and innovative thinking” in establishing the new system “should not be underestimated”.

He said: “Having witnessed the jury link technology in action the Scottish Criminal Bar Association recognise and fully appreciate the skill, commitment, energy and forward thinking poured into this project by the SCTS who should be extremely pleased with themselves, not only for the success of that delivery but also for the speed of that success following the setting up of Lady Dorrian’s working group.

“This is an important link in the process of restarting criminal jury trials in Scotland on a significant scale and is to be wholeheartedly welcomed.”

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