Court backlog ‘could take a decade to clear’, MSPs warn

Holyrood's Justice Committee said 'unpalatable' steps are needed to address the lengthy delays in the criminal justice system.

Court backlog ‘could take a decade to clear’, MSPs warn STV News
Courts: Backlog due to pandemic could take ten years to clear.

It could take up to ten years for Scottish courts to return to their normal level of backlog unless a number of measures are taken, MSPs have warned.

Holyrood’s Justice Committee said “unpalatable” steps are needed to address the lengthy delays in the criminal justice system.

Most criminal cases were put on hold during the initial stages of the pandemic.

The committee has been investigating the impact of Covid-19 on Scotland’s courts.

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It heard that while delays to criminal cases were a problem before the pandemic, simply returning to that level of backlog would take eight to ten years if nothing is done to speed up court business.

While the committee praised the introduction of remote jury centres in cinemas, it said even more digital technology was needed, as well as potentially extending court sitting hours.

Sentencing discounts for accused people who plead guilty at an early stage were also suggested.

Holding criminal trials without juries has been discounted as this was considered to be too fundamental a change to the justice system.

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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 MSP 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.”