Early resolutions could ease court backlog, say lawyers

Only summary cases ready to proceed would be called under new measures to clear the backlog of cases built up during the pandemic.

Sheriff courts reopened on Monday with Covid safety measures in place. Andrew Milligan/PA via PA Wire
Sheriff courts reopened on Monday with Covid safety measures in place.

Lawyers groups have backed early resolutions for less serious criminal cases to help clear a three-year trial backlog which has built up during the pandemic.

Sheriff Court summary criminal cases, where a sheriff hears a case sitting alone without a jury, widely resumed in Scotland on Monday after being largely suspended for more than three months.

Under summary trials the maximum jail term is 12 months and the biggest fine is £10,000.

David Fisken, the vice president of the Glasgow Bar Association, warned there was a theoretical danger of people accused of crimes pleading guilty because they could spend longer on remand than any custodial sentence they may receive.

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Perth Sheriff Court is one of a number of courts resuming more business on Monday (Jane Barlow/PA)
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He said: “If a client is adamant he wants to plead guilty and tells you he has done it, there is at least a danger they have done it to have a swifter resolution to it.

“There are real concerns over the mental health of the accused, victims and witnesses having these sorts of things hanging over them.

“There’s no doubt it’s a massive problem.”

As of April 9, 1801 people were being held in prisons awaiting trial, compared with an average of 1383 throughout 2019-20, Scottish Prison Service figures show.

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Debbie Wilson, the convener of the Law Society of Scotland’s Criminal Law Committee, said more meetings between prosecutors and defence lawyers outside courtrooms could resolve cases early by agreement.

The move, called Pre-Intermediate Diet Meetings (PIDMS), would see only cases which are definitely ready for trial called on, reducing time-consuming last-minute adjournments and late guilty pleas, Judiciary of Scotland guidance states.

It would also prevent witnesses and complainers having to attend court unnecessarily, it adds.

Mr Fisken also called for more efficient use of court space, saying he had been told that Glasgow Sheriff Court had been using only about half of its capacity of 14 summary trials per day.

Ms Wilson said the widespread restarting of summary trials was an “important step forward” but the justice system needs more “creative, workable solutions” going forward.

She said in a statement: “The substantial backlog of trials has had a significant impact on both witnesses and the accused.

“A strength of the Scottish criminal justice system had been its respect for timescales, such as those for custody cases, however, the pandemic has adversely lengthened the time people are held on remand.

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“The accused should not have pressure put on them to resolve their case. However, where the weight of evidence is against them, they should be given every opportunity to admit their guilt and allow the matter to be resolved quickly.”

Court guidance issued last November said PIDMs “will help to ensure that only those cases which cannot be resolved by agreement, and which are ready for trial, will advance to the trial date, thus reducing the unnecessary attendance at court of all involved in a case”.

The Lord President, Lord Carloway, said it would “improve the efficiency of the courts”, adding: “It is vital to the efficient operation of the courts that valuable trial diets are not lost by last-minute adjournments or late guilty pleas.”

The Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service (SCTS) last month announced plans for more court capacity to clear the pile-up.

It is predicted even with the extra resources, summary trial backlogs may not be cleared until 2024, while the logjam of trials at the High Court and in sheriff solemn cases – where a sheriff sits with a jury – may not be cleared until 2025.

From September, there will be four additional High Courts, two additional sheriff courts for solemn cases and up to 10 more sheriff courts for summary cases.

Justice of the Peace Courts, which hear minor cases and can impose punishments of up to 60 days in prison or fines up to £2500, are expected to restart all matters on June 7.

Some homes ‘without power for a week’ after Storm Arwen

Engineers have been working to restore power.

SSEN via PA Media

Some homes left without power following the “catastrophic damage” caused by Storm Arwen last week may not be reconnected until Friday, an electricity company has said.

Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) has reconnected more than 120,000 customers since Friday’s storm, but 6500 remained without power on Wednesday.

Graeme Keddie, of SSEN, said the main villages have been reconnected but that for “localised faults” power is not expected to be restored until Friday.

He apologised to any customers affected and said the company is doing all it can to restore power “as quickly as possible”.

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Mr Keddie said the storm had caused “devastation on parts of the network”, particularly in Aberdeenshire, where 4000 customers remain without power.

He told BBC Good Morning Scotland: “It’s a dynamic situation, we’ve got a better picture than we had yesterday and the day before.

“We’ve got all of the main villages connected; it’s now looking at the rural areas. We’re confident that we have a handle on the situation in terms of what we can restore in the next couple of days.

“We’re looking to make really good progress today and tomorrow and we expect it will be the last final few homes on Friday, and we want to be clear those are our expectations.”

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He added: “For those localised faults, those faults that are serving a home or a group of homes, we are looking into Friday for restoration.”

SSEN said it will reimburse all reasonable accommodation costs for any customer unable to make alternative arrangements.

Customers unable to access the company’s welfare facilities for free hot food and drinks can also claim the cost of takeaways or meals from local establishments, up to £15 per person.

SSEN managing director Chris Burchell said: “The impact of Storm Arwen has caused catastrophic damage to the electricity network across the north-east of Scotland and is the most significant event we have ever had to deal with in the area in a generation.

“I would like to thank our customers who have shown great resilience, patience and understanding since the impact of Storm Arwen, and we fully recognise that urgency of the situation for those who continue to remain off supply.

“I would like to personally apologise to all customers who have been impacted and would like to reassure everyone still off supply that our teams are working extremely hard to reconnect them as soon as possible.”


Support for Scottish independence rises to 55% – STV poll

2014 referendum results could be reversed if another was held now, according to the Ipsos MORI poll.

Jeff J Mitchell / Staff via Getty Images

Support for Scottish independence has risen to its highest level for a year, according to a new poll for STV News.

Backing for ‘Yes’ is now at 55% – up five points compared to the last Ipsos MORI poll just before the Holyrood election in May.

Excluding undecideds, it suggests the result of the 2014 referendum could be reversed if another was held now, and comes just days after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called for indyref2 by the end of 2023.

Meanwhile, approval ratings for Prime Minister Boris Johnson have hit a record low in Scotland, where four in five said they were ‘dissatisfied’ with his performance.

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Sturgeon remains the highest-rated party leader, but while Scots are overwhelmingly positive about the Scottish Government’s handling of the Covid vaccine rollout, they are less pleased with its performance in health and education.

What did the poll tell us?

Independence

STV News

Party leaders

STV News

Scottish Government performance

  • Vaccine rollout: 84% believe the Scottish Government has done a good job
  • Health: 48% say the government has done a bad job of improving the NHS; 40% think it has done a good job
  • Education: Bad job – 46%; Good job – 35%
  • Handling Brexit implications: Bad job – 43%; Good job – 37%

‘Far from over’

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Emily Gray, managing director of Ipsos MORI Scotland, said: “This latest poll from Ipsos MORI and STV News indicates that the argument for Scottish independence is far from over, with a slight improvement for the Yes side. 

“Given the margins of error around polling estimates, however, neither the Yes or No camps should be confident of victory at this point. 

“The Yes camp may be benefiting from what has been a very bad week for Boris Johnson and the Conservatives at Westminster, with fieldwork taking place after heated debate about MPs’ second jobs. 

“This is certainly reflected in Johnson’s own ratings, which have fallen to a new low.”

Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1107 adults aged 16 and over across Scotland by phone between November 22-29.


Murder investigation launched after discovery of teenage girl’s body

Amber Gibson, 16, went missing in Hamilton on Friday night.

Police Scotland
Police Scotland can confirm that the body of a young female found near to Cadzow Glen, Hamilton, has been formally identified as 16-year-old Amber Gibson.

The death of a missing 16-year-old girl is being treated as murder after her body was discovered in a wooded area in South Lanarkshire.

Amber Gibson, also known as Amber Niven, disappeared in Hamilton shortly before 10pm on Friday.

She had last been seen on Cadzow Street, after leaving her home in the Hillhouse area around 9.15pm that night.

On Sunday morning, at around 10.10am, emergency services were alerted to a body near to Cadzow Glen.

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On Monday, Police Scotland confirmed the formal identification of the body and said the death was being treated as unexplained.

STV News
Amber Gibson: Cadzow Glen in Hamilton where murdered 16-year-old’s body was found.

But on Tuesday night, officers announced the launch of a murder investigation into the killing.

They have appealed to the public for help discovering what happened to Amber.

Detective superintendent Raymond Brown, from Police Scotland Major Investigations Team West, said: “Our thoughts very much remain with Amber’s loved ones and we will continue to support them through this terrible time.

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“Whilst our enquiries continue, we are asking for anyone with any information on what happened to Amber, or anyone who believes they saw her at any point of her movements between Friday and Sunday, to please come forward.”

Chief inspector Briony Daye, Local Area Commander, said: “I’d like to reassure the local community that this is believed to be an isolated incident and there is not any risk to other members of the public.

“There will continue to be an increased police presence in the area over the coming days and anyone with concerns can speak with local officers at any time.”

Anyone with information can call police on 101, quoting incident 1281 of November 28. Alternatively, you can contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111, to remain anonymous.

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Scottish rugby international Siobhan Cattigan dies aged 26

Scottish Rugby extended its sincere condolences to her family and friends.

Ross MacDonald/SNS Group via SNS Group
The Stirling County back row won 19 caps for Scotland between 2018 and 2021.

Scotland rugby international Siobhan Cattigan has died at the age of 26.

The Stirling County back row won 19 caps for Scotland between 2018 and 2021.

In a statement, Scottish Rugby said it was “deeply saddened” by the news, and extended sincere condolences to her family and friends.

They wrote: “The thoughts of all our people and players go out to Siobhan’s family and many teammates at Stirling County and Scotland at this incredibly difficult time.

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“Specialist Scottish Rugby employees are now providing on-going support to those most closely affected.”

Cattigan started all three matches of the 2021 Women’s Six Nations tournament, playing at number eight against England, Italy and Wales.

She was also involved with Scotland’s Rugby World Cup 2021 Europe Qualifiers squad, where she came off the bench in Scotland’s win over Spain.

Cattigan also studied Criminology and Sociology at the University of Stirling before going on to receive a Master’s degree in sports psychology.

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In a statement by Stirling County, Cattigan was praised as an inspiration and described as being central to the development of women’s rugby within the club.

“Shibby has been a big part of County for many years and will be hugely missed by everyone at the club,” they wrote.

“She was central to the development of women’s rugby within the club & an inspiration to the girls in the youth section.

Shibby was a teammate & friend & we deeply mourn her loss.  Our love,  thoughts & heartfelt condolences are with Shibby’s family at this devastating time. 

“We very much hope their privacy will be respected by everyone as they deal with their tragic loss.”


Scotland records 97 Covid-linked deaths in one week

A total of 12,127 people have died in Scotland with confirmed or suspected coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.

Andrew Milligan via PA Media
Covid: Just under 100 deaths in Scotland last week.

A total of 97 coronavirus-linked deaths were recorded in Scotland in the week to November 28, the latest statistics show.

This is an increase of one on the previous week and takes the total number of people in Scotland who have died with confirmed or suspected coronavirus to 12,127, according to National Records of Scotland (NRS) data.

Of the latest deaths, 18 were people aged under 65, 34 were aged 65-74 and 45 were 75 or older.

Fife was the council area with the highest number of deaths at 11, followed by Glasgow with ten and South Lanarkshire with eight.

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The majority of the deaths – 82 – occurred in hospital, with nine at home or in a non-institutional setting and six in care homes.

The statistics are published weekly and cover all deaths registered in Scotland where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

They differ from the lab-confirmed coronavirus deaths announced daily by the Scottish Government because the NRS figures include suspected or probable cases of Covid-19.

Pete Whitehouse, NRS statistical services director, said: “The number of deaths from all causes registered in Scotland in this week was 1270, which is 140, or 12%, more than the five-year average.”

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Among the higher than average deaths in the week to November 28 were those from cancer and circulatory causes, which each accounted for 24 more than five-year-average.

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All over-18s to be offered Covid booster jabs before February

Scottish Government confirms over-18s will be eligible for a third dose of Covid-19 vaccine three months after their second.

Yui Mok/PA via PA Media
Scottish Government says booster doses should be offered to all adults in Scotland before February.

All adults should be offered a coronavirus booster vaccination by the end of January, the Scottish Government has announced.

Scotland follows the rest of the UK in confirming that over-18s will be eligible for a third dose of a Covid-19 vaccine three months after their second.

The UK-wide Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that a third dose will help increase adults’ protection levels following the emergence of the new Omicron variant.

A total of nine cases of Omicron have been discovered in Scotland – all linked to a single, private event on November 20 – although First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned of the possibility of “many more” people being infected.

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Confirming the plan to follow the JCVI advice to offer boosters to all eligible over-18s, a Scottish Government spokesman said: “Scotland already has the highest vaccination rate of all UK nations for first, second and third doses. The winter vaccination programme has already delivered more than 1.6 million booster doses to the most vulnerable groups.

“We are aiming to offer the booster vaccine to everyone aged 18 or older who is eligible by the end of January, in line with the JCVI’s advice, and we will confirm our approach to deployment very soon.

“We will continue to do all that we can to make sure people in Scotland are offered the greatest possible protection from vaccination, as quickly as we can.”

According to the JCVI guidance, the booster doses should be given no sooner than three months after a person’s second dose of an original vaccine – halving the time previously recommended.

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Young people aged 12 to 15 should be offered a second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, no sooner than 12 weeks after their first dose.

More than 850 jobs to be created at SSE distribution arm

Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks Distribution aims to boost investment in northern Scotland and central southern England by about a third.

Peter Byrne via PA Media
Investment: Jobs to be created at SSE distribution arm.

Energy giant SSE has unveiled plans to create more than 850 jobs in its distribution business as part of proposals to ramp up investment to £4bn and cut its carbon footprint.

Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) Distribution, which is owned by SSE, aims to boost its investment by around a third in the north of Scotland and central southern England for the next price control period between 2023 and 2028.

It said the extra investment will be delivered without increasing customer energy bills.

It comes as part of the wider SSE group’s aims to invest £12.5bn over the five years and accelerate its net-zero plans.

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The move will see SSE become the biggest constructor of offshore wind in the world and will increase the amount of renewable energy produced by four gigawatts (GW) over the period.

SSE will deliver a quarter of the UK’s 40GW offshore wind target by 2030 and more than a fifth of the UK’s electricity networks investment.

Under the SSEN business plan, which has been submitted to regulator Ofgem for approval, the division aims to cut its carbon footprint by 35%.

It also plans to facilitate the connection of 1.3 million electric vehicles and 800,000 heat pumps on its network.

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SSE chief executive Alistair Phillips-Davies said: “Collectively, SSE is investing nearly £7m each day, enabling over 20% of the upcoming UK electricity networks investment, the delivery of over 25% of the UK’s 40GW offshore wind target and so much more to help the UK and other governments decarbonise.

“With the UK committing to an accelerated net-zero timeline ahead of COP26, this is where the rubber hits the road and we see huge growth in our distribution business as it brings net zero to the front door.”

SSE has resisted calls from activist investor Elliott Investment Management for a break-up, instead focusing on its green spending drive funded by a dividend cut and asset sales.

It is set to sell a 25% stake in SSEN Distribution, as well as SSEN Transmission, likely to be early in 2023-24.


Medics angry ahead of debate on safety at Glasgow hospital

Senior clinicians have written to the First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care about ‘unfounded criticism’.

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Queen Elizabeth University Hospital: Medics angry ahead of debate.

A group of senior clinicians at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) in Glasgow have complained about “unfounded criticism” of clinical teams and staff.

In a letter to First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon and the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, Humza Yousaf, 23 senior clinicians “…have expressed their immense frustration”.

The clinicians wrote: “As NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde clinicians and clinical leaders, we write to express our immense disappointment and frustration about the way in which our hospitals, our colleagues and the treatment of our patients is being portrayed in the press and the chamber of the Scottish Parliament.”

They add: “We are particularly disappointed that individual patients are being discussed in Parliament without the knowledge of the families concerned, causing untold distress to families already grieving the loss of their loved one.

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“Our staff across NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, including the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital campus, provide professional, dedicated care to their patients and as we prepare for a challenging winter, this sustained criticism of our staff is undoubtedly causing them distress and worry.

“This unfounded criticism of our clinical teams and staff as well as the safety of our hospitals, is also hugely detrimental to staff morale at a time when so much is being asked of them.”

The letter comes ahead of Labour leader Anas Sarwar calling for Sturgeon to “finally do the right thing and sack the leadership at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital”.

Labour claim photographs of mould, recently discovered at QEUH, and published in an academic paper expose the risks of water in seeding infection inside hospitals.

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Labour’s opposition business motion focuses on patient safety, and calls on the Scottish Parliament to withdraw its confidence in the leadership of Greater Glasgow & Clyde Heath board.

The vote comes after families and clinicians came forward to speak out about a series of deaths at the flagship hospital spanning the last five years.

Sarwar said that repeated pleas from the loved ones of those who have died from preventable hospital-acquired infection have been ignored.

Stags snapped ‘fighting for supremacy’ in shadow of Highlands mountain

They were spotted in the Highlands last month.

Connor McLaren via SWNS
The male deer were snapped locking antlers on a moorland below Buachaille Etive Mòr in Glen Etive.

Two young stags were spotted ‘fighting for supremacy’ during rutting season in the shadow of a Highlands mountain.

The male deer were snapped locking antlers on a moorland below Buachaille Etive Mòr in Glen Etive, in the Highlands last month.

Rutting is when stags fight each other with their antlers to decide who has the right to mate with female deer.

Wildlife enthusiast Connor McLaren, 26, travelled from his home in Perth, Perth and Kinross, to see if he could spot any deer.

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He said the smaller of the two was ‘dominating the fight’ but did not know who won in the end after watching for around 40 minutes.

Connor, who works as a digital marketer for Porsche, said: “I was out taking photos and I knew there are sometimes deer in that area.

“I went down and had a look for them and got lucky. The stags fight for supremacy for a mate.

“Those two deer were fighting so they have the right to mate.

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“I don’t know if it was because he had the high ground but the smaller one seemed to be dominating the fight.”

Connor continued: “There was no victor by the time I left – they were still going at it. I watched them for around 40 minutes.

“They’d fight for a bit, then they’d stop then start again. They were both quite young though, so I don’t know if either of them would win overall.

“You’d expect one of the more mature stags is probably going to win.”


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