The virtual world is new normal in Scottish courts

By Reevel Alderson
Home affairs correspondent, BBC Scotland

  • Published
Empty courtImage source, SCTS
Image caption,
Video technology is expected to be used more and more in Scottish courts

Scotland's first virtual court case has begun at the Court of Session.

Instead of being held in a courtroom in Parliament House in Edinburgh, the three judges hearing the case, and lawyers for both sides in the appeal have been linked by video.

Normally court proceedings begin with an official bearing the mace on to the bench, followed by the judges.

In this virtual world a court official appeared on screen and told Lord Carloway, the Lord President he was on.

Scotland's most senior judge then announced the case and said to QC Craig Sandison: "You have the screen."

Proceedings look like any video conference with the speaker taking the main screen and the other parties in thumbnails at the bottom.

One significant difference with physical courts is that when the senior judge wants to know whether his brother judges agree with him, they have to appear on screen and vocalise their assent, rather than merely nodding.

No distractions

One aspect of the new normal has been the propensity for TV bulletins to feature interviews carried out using Skype or FaceTime with contributors in their homes or offices.

While what they are saying may be interesting, many find themselves commenting on the decor behind the interviewee or the furniture in the room.

No such distraction in the virtual court case. All but one of the parties was seated in front of an impressive array of leather-bound legal tomes.

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) says although this has been driven by concerns arising from the coronavirus epidemic, video technology will be used more widely in courts in the future and three other civil cases will be heard virtually later this week.

In the case itself, the independence blogger Stuart Campbell is seeking the overturning of a sheriff's ruling that he had not been defamed by the former Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale.

Legal argument centres on the concept of fair comment, and the judges will deliver their judgement later, either virtually or via the courts service website.

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