High Court trials in December 2020 up over previous years
There were more High Court evidence led trials in December 2020 than during the same period in the preceding two years amid severe delays caused by the pandemic, new figures from the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) show.
Remote jury centres enabled 29 High Court evidence led trials to commence which is higher than December 2019 (26) and December 2018 (23) in a context in which the average waiting period for trials has doubled to 12 months in the High Court and 15 months in Sheriff solemn cases.
The figures show that during the month of December:
- The overall level of new cases registered was 67 per cent of the average monthly pre-Covid level.
- Petitions, which provide a useful indicator of future solemn business have reduced to their lowest level in eight months and are 4% lower than the average monthly pre-Covid level.
- Remote jury centres were extended across Scotland to re-start sheriff court jury trials, and 11 evidence led trials commenced in Lothian and Borders and Glasgow and Strathkelvin. The other Sheriffdoms will follow in the early part of 2021.
- Evidence led summary trials in the Sheriff Courts are 69 per cent of the average monthly pre-Covid levels.
- The majority of criminal cases are resolved without the need for a trial and the total volume of cases concluded was 76% of the average monthly pre-Covid level.
David Fraser, executive director – court operations, said: “All courts are open and our court buildings continue to operate in accordance with guidance from Public Health Scotland to safeguard our staff, judiciary and court users.
“As a result of the increasing spread of the new variant of Covid-19 across Scotland, the Lord President announced on 11 January 2021 that non-custody and non-priority summary trials due to call between 12 January and 26 February are adjourned. While this is necessary to support the public health response to Covid-19, we anticipate that this will increase the summary trial backlog by around 3,000 to 4,300 cases. Solemn business continues to be prioritised and since the first full month’s criminal programme in September, we can see further progress towards pre-Covid levels.
“While these are encouraging signs, scheduled cases are twice the normal level and the average waiting period for trials has doubled to 12 months in the High Court and 15 months in Sheriff Solemn. Seven weeks without summary trials is likely to cause the waiting period to rise further from 6 months to 7.5 months in Sheriff Summary. We are working closely with the judiciary, Scottish Government, justice organisations, the legal profession and the third sector to find solutions to minimise delays and plan for an effective recovery when lockdown eases.
“We will continue to publish these figures on a monthly basis which will show the progress we are making and challenges we face against the backdrop of a global pandemic.”