30th September 2020

Technology Covid: Scottish courts backlog ‘could last 10 years’

Technology Covid: Scottish courts backlog ‘could last 10 years’


Technology Bewigged lawyers in court

Image caption

The committee said delays were not acceptable to victims, witnesses or those accused of crimes

Scottish courts could take up to a decade to return to normal after Covid, a Holyrood committee has warned.

The Scottish Parliament’s justice committee said “unpalatable” steps were needed to address the lengthy delays in the criminal justice system.

MSPs have been looking at the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the courts.

The justice committee described the current level of delays faced by those involved in criminal cases as “not acceptable”.

The Scottish government said it welcomed the committee’s report and would respond in detail “in due course”.

It said the situation was one that was mirrored across the world.

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Committee convener Adam Tomkins said: “The scale of the challenge faced by our courts is not to be underestimated. Current delays are not acceptable for the victims, witnesses or those accused of crimes.

“While that point may not be controversial, we need to ensure changes to improve the situation, whether long or short term, have the widest possible backing.

“To that end, we want the Scottish government to convene a meeting of all interested parties to agree a way forward. Time is of the essence.”

The committee’s report praised the use of remote jury centres based in cinemas and said more digital technology was needed.

It also recommended the consideration of extending court sitting hours and sentencing discounts for those pleading guilty at an early stage on criminal proceedings.

But it came out against the idea of holding trials without juries in serious criminal cases.

Mr Tomkins added: “Although the problems are at their worst in the criminal courts, there is still a mismatch in our civil courts, which are largely functioning, and other services linked to them, such as family contact centres, which are at best partially open.”

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The Scottish government said it understood the impact trial delays had on victims, witnesses and accused, and said it had pledged £5.5m to establish the remote jury centres.

A spokeswoman said :”The impact of Covid-19 is being felt by jurisdictions across the world. We continue to work with partners, including victims groups, the Scottish courts and prosecution services, and the legal profession, to identify 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.”

She added that a new structure, led by a criminal justice board, had been established to co-ordinate recovery activity, including in the criminal courts and that this board would meet every two weeks to direct and monitor progress.


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