Scotland’s most senior judge has urged people entering court buildings to follow coronavirus rules to ensure that the administration of justice can continue safely.
With mainland Scotland now in lockdown the Lord President, Lord Carloway, said he is determined to ensure that everything is done to keep courts and tribunals operating effectively and safely.
He said he is aware there been “lapses, perhaps inadvertent”, by some of those coming to court, where people must wear face coverings when moving around the building and follow social distancing measures.
And he warned that he and judicial colleagues across the country will take any continued breaches “very seriously indeed”.
Lord Carloway said: “In some instances we may need to reinforce the importance of respecting safety measures by highlighting to those breaching requirements that the court may regard any future breach and any repeated breach as constituting a contempt of court.
“I expect everyone to take every step possible to ensure that they and their colleagues respect the measures introduced, to protect both themselves and others.
“Together we can keep the administration of justice going in a way that is effective, fair and safe for all.”
He added: “As Scotland heads into a new period of tightened restrictions, I am determined to ensure that everything is done to keep our courts and tribunals operating effectively and safely.”
The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) said courts and tribunals will continue to operate business as currently scheduled, as it is an essential service.
The SCTS said that while the majority of people already understand and comply with the measures, there have been reports of people failing to wear face coverings, gathering in groups and failing to observe two metre physical distancing in courtrooms.
The service’s chief executive Eric McQueen said: “We realise that, over time, complacency and familiarity has crept in and, disappointingly, there remains a small number of people who believe the rules do not apply to them. This is a time for everyone to be vigilant.
“We are renewing and refreshing our signage and distancing markers, our advisory information and asking everyone to make the courts and tribunals as safe as possible for all.
“This is about awareness and self-discipline – the physical environment has been properly prepared, we need everyone who comes to work in it, or visit it, to follow the measures in place to keep them safe.
“Our buildings are currently only open to those who need to be there for the purposes of court or tribunal proceedings.
“There is much concern over accumulating delays to justice and the impact this has for accused, victims and witnesses. Our approach allows us to keep doing our critical work – even during the level 4 restrictions. Our courts can continue to operate safely if all participants comply with the measures in place.”
In addition to physical measures, SCTS said that almost all civil court and tribunal business is now conducted online or by telephone, reducing the number of people required to attend a court.
Starting times for court business are varied to reduce the number of people in buildings at any one time and many custody cases are being heard virtually.
Remote jury centres have been created to provide physical distancing both in the court room for participants and for the jurors in their specialised centres.
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