Covid: Sheriff trials with remote juries to begin in December

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CinemaImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Cinemas are one venue that could be used for remote jury centres

Remote jury centres are to be extended across Scotland so sheriff court jury trials delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic can restart in December.

The new centres will have enough capacity for 18 jury trial courts to operate, the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service said.

The Scottish government has provided £6.5m for the centres.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said tackling the backlog would be a "significant challenge".

Trials have not been running since the start of the outbreak in Scotland in March, with about 1,800 cases now built up.

By March 2021, the courts service estimate that more than 2,000 sheriff court jury trials will be outstanding.

The jury centres will be set up in all six sheriffdoms across Scotland, with facilities in Lothian and Borders and Glasgow and Strathkelvin expected to be in place by December.

Other sheriffdoms will follow in the early part of 2021.

Plans to use remote jury centres, including cinemas, for socially-distanced jurors to watch High Court trials have already been announced.

Mr Yousaf said the sheriff court trials would follow a similar model.

"The trials will be heard in a court room, but the jurors themselves will be socially distanced in external jury centres," he told BBC Scotland.

"If they're in cinemas, they will not look like cinemas. They will look like court rooms.

"They will preserve the solemnity of a trial which is really important and of course, very importantly, they will follow public health guidance for the jurors. They will be able to stay physically distanced while watching the trial in the court room."

High Court trials restart in Edinburgh

The remote jury centres have been endorsed by Lady Dorrian's Restarting Solemn Trials Working Group.

Lady Dorrian said: "The innovative approach to remote jury centres in the High Court is now up and running and the next stage is to plan the roll-out of this approach to sheriff court jury trials.

"This is an excellent collaborative effort across the justice sector which will increase court capacity in an environment that is safe for all participants."

High Court trials in Edinburgh resumed this week using a remote jury centre.

Eric McQueen, chief executive of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service said the announcement was an "important step" towards restarting sheriff court jury trials.

"The restarting of trials will be welcome news for accused, victims and witnesses whose lives have been put on hold as a result of the pandemic," he said.

"This mirrors the approach we have taken in the High Court and we are sourcing venues to support each Sheriffdom.

"The extension of the remote jury centres across Scotland will also provide the capacity for High Court sittings to take place in Aberdeen and Inverness."

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