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New Covid-19 lockdown rules for Scottish courts unveiled

By Alan Beresford

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SCOTTISH courts will only be dealing with the most serious criminal trials during lockdown, it has been announced.

Inverness Justice Centre is one of the courts affected by the new rules. Picture: Gary Anthony
Inverness Justice Centre is one of the courts affected by the new rules. Picture: Gary Anthony

The majority of summary trials in the sheriff Court and Justice of the Peace court will be adjourned, which will reduce the overall number of criminal trials taking place during lockdown by up to 75 per cent.

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 has had clear guidance from Public Health Scotland on the measures that are required to minimise the potential transmission of the virus and on how the courts can continue to operate safely under the current restrictions.

While there is an increased risk of transmission from the new variant of COVID across the wider community, the clinical advice has remained that, provided the FACTS guidance is followed, the working environment is as safe as possible.

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.

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).

The current planning assumption is that these arrangements will remain in place until February 28 – although this will be kept under regular review with a formal review planned for 15 February, in light of the public health situation. The effect of these measures will be to significantly reduce the level of business currently being conducted in person in the courts, focusing on the most serious and sensitive cases only at this time.

Guidance for Supreme Courts Users can be found at http://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/docs/default-source/default-document-library/coronavirus-docs/guidance-for-supreme-court-users-(002).pdf?sfvrsn=2 while for those using either Sheriff Court or Justice of the Peace Courts visit http://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/docs/default-source/default-document-library/coronavirus-docs/guidance-for-sheriff-court-and-justice-of-the-peace-court-users.pdf?sfvrsn=2

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