Scottish courts facing ‘enormous backlog’ due to lockdown

Humza Yousaf told MSPs additional resources would be needed to help courts clear the cases.

There will be an “enormous backlog” of cases waiting to come to trial due to the coronavirus lockdown, the justice secretary has said.

Humza Yousaf told a committee of MSPs additional resources would be needed to help courts clear the cases.

With all new jury trials currently suspended due to the pandemic, around 1600 cases could be delayed if restrictions continue into the summer.

Speaking to Holyrood’s Justice Committee via video link on Thursday, Yousaf also gave his condolences to the family and friends of a prison officer who died from coronavirus.

The justice secretary said he was a “very popular and much-loved individual”.

Asked about Covid-19 in Scotland’s prisons, he said there are currently 94 people in custody across nine sites who are self-isolating and 12 confirmed positive cases.

Prison staff absences are currently at 19.7% of the workforce, down from around 25% at the beginning of the outbreak.

Scottish Conservative MSP Liam Kerr asked about the impact of the lockdown on criminal court cases.

The justice secretary responded: “There are no jury trials currently under way.

“We are working on what the options may be in order to make sure we make some kind of dent into that backlog.”

The Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service has consolidated its work into ten hub sheriff courts and is doing as much work as possible remotely, he said.

Yousaf added: “Clearly whatever we do on solemn business or progressing summary business there is going to be, frankly, an enormous backlog which is going to clearly have impacts on victims of crime, on the legal profession and the courts.

“Already a fair bit of effort is going into looking at and reflecting on what action to take to address that backlog.”

Discussing how the backlog could be cleared, he said: “I cannot envisage how that would be done within current budgets.”

The pressure on public finances in general could require a “European-wide if not worldwide look at stimulus packages”, he said.

The justice secretary was also asked about plans to release prisoners early in order to reduce crowding in prisons.

A cohort of between 300 and 450 prisoners will be released in phases, he said, starting at the end of April.

Asked about measures being taken around prisoners’ mental health, Yousaf said they had been given extra calls and in-cell entertainment, as well as plans to introduce mobile phones to maintain family contact.

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