Trials on the silver screen: Juries to sit in ODEON cinemas this month

Trials on the silver screen: Juries to sit in ODEON cinemas this month

Ronnie Renucci QC

Plans to conduct High Court trials using remote jury centres are now underway and the first trials are expected to start at the end of September.

Following the recommendation from Lady Dorrian’s Restarting Solemn Trials Working Group, the first trials will be based in selected ODEON cinemas and are expected to start on 28 September in Edinburgh, and from 12 October in Glasgow.

The remote jury centres, which are a first in the UK, will allow jurors to participate in trials by remotely watching trials from a socially distanced setting at the cinemas.

The jurors will sit physically distanced and be presented with four views of the court on the cinema screen. The judge and the accused will be shown at all times and other screens will show witnesses, the representing lawyers, or evidence.

Cinemas were chosen to host the jury centres as they have pre-existing, high levels of digital connectivity and extremely secure IT infrastructure. They also offer sound-proofed accommodation which is extremely important for jury deliberations and can provide accommodations for the entire contract duration.

As part of the contract, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service will have exclusive access to the cinemas during the week.

To accommodate the remote trials, courtrooms are being equipped with cameras and other technology necessary to broadcast the trials to the cinema screens and to receive the video wall of jurors into the courtroom.

The jury deliberation will take place in the same room using physically distanced tables and chairs linked by microphones.

There are extensive provisions for health and safety including a deep cleaning schedule, face coverings and physical distancing at all times.

Jury citations have now been issued for the first three High Court trials to be supported by the Edinburgh Jury Centre and will be conducted at courtrooms at Lawnmarket, Edinburgh, Edinburgh Sheriff Court and Livingston Sheriff Court.

Eric McQueen, chief executive at the SCTS, said: “We are grateful to ODEON Cinemas for working alongside us to make the concept of remote jury centres a reality. We need to move swiftly to increase the number of High Court trials taking place and we will do this incrementally as soon as we can.

“The next couple of weeks will involve testing and familiarisation visits from all professional trial participants and supporters. It is important for everyone involved in these trials to understand the set-up and functionality of the centres and their relationship with the courtroom. For the jurors who will be taking part in these cases we have to reassure them of the steps we have taken to support them to undertake their civic duty during this time of COVID-19.”

Ronnie Renucci QC, Vice-Dean of Faculty, president of the Scottish Criminal Bar Association, and member of the working group, said: “The use of cinemas as remote jury centres is an innovative and unique solution to the problem of conducting jury trials during the present restrictions. More importantly it is a workable solution that allows jury trials to proceed at a sustainable level, which should prevent the present backlog rising further.

“The SCTS are to be commended for their efforts in putting the vision of Lady Dorrian’s recommendations into practice and the Scottish government for providing the means to make it possible.

“The Scottish Criminal bar welcomes and applauds the vibrant return to full scale criminal trials that the innovative jury centre solution represents. Remote jury centres break new ground and will be of the keenest interest to other nations wrestling with the havoc wreaked by COVID on adversarial justice systems around the world.”

David Harvie, chief executive of COPFS, added: “The opening of these jury centres is an important step which will allow for the number of High Court trials held to come back up to pre-pandemic levels.

“Work across the justice system on tackling the accumulated case load continues, and innovative measures such as this will bring real benefits for people who are waiting for cases to come to trial.”

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