Remote jury centres which have been set up for High Court cases are to be extended in a bid to restart sheriff court trials across Scotland.
The Scottish Government has provided £6.5m for 18 jury trial courts to operate remotely in Scotland’s six Sheriffdoms to tackle delays caused by the pandemic.
Venues are currently being scouted but centres for the Lothian and Borders Sheriffdom and the Glasgow and Strathkelvin Sheriffdom are expected to be in place by December, with the rest following early next year.
The first High Court trial with a jury sitting remotely in a screen of the Odeon cinema at Fort Kinnaird retail park in Edinburgh began this week, following recommendations by Lady Dorrian’s Restarting Solemn Trials Working Group.
She 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.”
The remote jury centres for the High Court are initially in place for six months – after £5.5m funding from the Scottish Government – with an option to extend them for a longer period.
Each of the five cinema screens in use can accommodate 15 physically-distanced jurors, who feature on a video wall in the courtrooms – which themselves have the facility to accommodate up to three accused along with their legal representatives.
More trials are scheduled for the week of October 12 at another jury centre for the High Court in Glasgow, using 11 screens at the Odeon complex in the Braehead shopping centre, Renfrewshire.
A cross-justice group involving the legal profession and third sector, led by Sheriff Principal Turnbull, will now focus on the practical differences in hearing sheriff court jury trials.
It comes after Holyrood’s Justice Committee warned it could take eight to 10 years for Scottish courts to return to their normal level of backlog unless a number of measures were taken.
Justice secretary Humza Yousaf said: “The introduction of remote jury centres for sheriff court trials will provide assurance to victims, witnesses and accused who have been adversely affected by case delays due to Covid-19.
“The Scottish Government has provided £6.5m funding for these centres to be used across the country, allowing sheriff court trials to proceed as quickly as possible.
“This is in addition to the £5.5m already provided for High Court jury centres and £3m for court technology.
“Excellent progress has already been made, including the resumption of High Court trials in Edinburgh this week using the remote jury centre.
“I am grateful to all those involved in the court service and across our justice system to address the challenges faced as a result of the pandemic and in getting to this point.”