The backlog in trials due to the coronavirus pandemic will not be cleared until 2025, according to new analysis.
The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) has announced plans to expand remote jury centres and create additional courts from this September as part of a court recovery programme to deal with the backlog.
There will be four additional High Courts, two additional Sheriff Courts for solemn cases and up to 10 more Sheriff Courts for summary cases.
With these extra resources, SCTS said it predicts the backlog of High Court and Sheriff solemn cases will be cleared by 2025, and summary trial backlogs will be dealt with by 2024.
The Criminal Justice Board is developing a programme to help Scotland’s justice system recover and transform in the wake of the extensive disruption caused by the pandemic.
Eric McQueen, SCTS chief executive, said: “The recovery proposals were recently discussed at a roundtable meeting involving the Criminal Justice Board, the legal profession, the third sector and members of the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee, who brought collective insight into the challenges faced by the justice system as well as recognising the progress made to date in responding to Covid-19.
“Collaboration across the whole justice system has already returned both the High Court and Sheriff Court jury trials to pre-Covid capacity, which is an incredible achievement.
“As lockdown restrictions ease, our attention is focused on returning summary criminal business to pre-Covid levels and tackling the backlogs across all courts which impacts on complainers, witnesses and the accused.”
SCTS said there is no proposal for weekend trial courts within the recovery plans.
New jury trials were put on hold for several months last year due to the pandemic.
SCTS said that through the introduction of virtual hearings and remote jury centres, there is sufficient capacity within the existing court estate to accommodate the additional trial courts and it will confirm the locations in due course.
The recovery element of the programme is supported by £50 million announced by the Scottish Government in its recent Budget.
SCTS said this will provide the necessary resources for the courts, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, Legal Aid, police, community justice, prisons and third sector support services to start the recovery programme.
The “renew” element of the programme will focus on resolving cases at the earliest opportunity and embedding new ways of working, while the “transform” element will aim to change outcomes for those affected by the criminal justice system.
Mr McQueen said: “This funding announcement is an important first step and we are moving quickly to prepare for additional courts, with the aim of starting the recovery programme in September 2021.
“At all times safety for everyone in our courts and remote jury centres will remain our top priority and the pace of the recovery programme must be aligned to continued progress on vaccination and Covid transmission rates.”
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