A growing backlog of court cases affecting people in Fife could and should be tackled in the region, a local MSP has argued.
Claire Baker, Labour MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, has called on the Scottish Government to ensure local delivery of justice is not compromised as a result of the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Officials at Holyrood have advised there are currently no immediate plans to resume jury trials in Dunfermline and Kirkcaldy, and that victims of crime may need to travel to Edinburgh or Glasgow to attend court.
But Mrs Baker believes local courts need to be operational as soon as possible to avoid inconveniencing as few people – accused, victims, families and solicitors – as possible.
“The local delivery of justice is important for victims and witnesses and we need to see local court proceedings resumed,” she said.
“While the planned resumption of a small number of jury trials in Glasgow and Edinburgh is a welcome step, this means people will have to travel for these cases.
“I have asked the Scottish Government to consider what steps can be taken to return justice to local areas ahead of the creation of temporary courts.
“There is already a significant backlog of cases and victims should not have to wait further for a trial date if it can be avoided.”
Exact numbers of the outstanding cases have not been divulged as yet, but The Courier understands there are concerns among solicitors about how manageable the situation will be when courts do reopen.
At the moment, the Scottish Government says it has no immediate plans to reintroduce jury trials in Dunfermline or Kirkcaldy at this moment in time, although it noted that Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian, has set out the first steps to restart jury trials in Scotland.
Lady Dorrian is leading a working group made up of representatives from across the justice sector, and planning is under way for an initial number of High Court jury trials to take place in July.
She said: “The courts have been working extremely hard to deliver justice in the current circumstances.
“The challenges in conducting 15-person jury trials in a physically distanced environment cannot be underestimated.
“A pool of jurors must be cited, assembled and balloted in a way which respects social distancing guidelines.
“The court facilities must be configured to ensure the safety of all those involved in the trial, including access for the public and for the media, whilst at the same time ensuring effective participation of all the main participants.
“However, thanks to the constructive input of all those on the Working Group, we have identified the steps needed for the first trials to take place in Edinburgh and Glasgow in July.
“I am grateful to the Working Group members for their effective collaboration and commitment.”
The hope is for jury trials to resume in Fife as soon as possible, and Lady Dorrian said: “There is still plenty of work to do before this can become a reality.
“The details are now being worked through, and specific plans will be developed for different approaches in each location.”
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