Jury Trials now underway across Scotland

Feb 25, 2021

Sheriff and jury criminal trials are now proceeding across Scotland with the last remote jury centres opened to serve Aberdeen and Inverness Sheriff Courts.

The programme for Sheriff Courts got underway in November in Glasgow and Edinburgh Sheriff Courts following the successful introduction of cinema based remote jury centres for the High Court. Dumbarton Sheriff Court was the final sheriff court to commence jury trials this week.

Eric McQueen, Chief Executive of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service said:

“The safety of all our court users during Coronavirus has been our priority. Every day we have to operate 2metre physical distancing within our buildings and to achieve this for jury courts meant a radical change to our thinking. The solution was to host jurors in cinema complexes, large auditoria with sufficient space to maintain distance and with excellent audio visual facilities to enable jurors to see the proceedings and in turn be seen by the judge.

"Jurors attending the remote jury centre frees up physical space in the trial courtroom to allow all other court participants, the accused, complainer and witnesses, defence and supporters to be accommodated in the same physically distanced way throughout the proceedings.“

The court arrangements for sheriff court jury trials was supported by a working group, Chaired by Sheriff Principal Turnbull, with a wide range of justice interests represented.

Krista Johnson of Martin, Johnson and Socha criminal defence lawyers was one of the defence solicitors contributing to the working group. She said: “The aim of getting Sheriff and Jury trials running again was ambitious. It is a credit to all concerned that the goal has been achieved. Defence lawyers across the country welcome the restart of jury trials which ends a period of uncertainty for witnesses and accused alike.”

With the new remote jury centres, there has been some apprehension from prospective jurors cited but we have provided good information and support to reassure them of how things are operating at this time.

A recent juror shared their feedback:  

“I found the cinema very comfortable, plenty of room.  Was great that you could just cut the video link from the court when discussion was taking place which enabled the jury to stay in our seats.  Room temperature and the volume was perfect no problems.

"Covid protection was well set out plenty of signs and hand sanitiser. Was a bit apprehensive before I went but was really impressed and felt very safe.“

Eric McQueen continued: “The completion of the programme means we are now back to pre-covid trial court numbers for both High Court and Sheriff Court jury trials which is a real achievement given the challenges of the pandemic lockdown. With 2 metre physical distancing likely to remain a requirement for some time, remote jury centres will remain as court facilities for some time. Adaptations are currently in development to support larger multi accused trials.

"We are extremely grateful to everyone concerned in the creation, development and operation of these trial courts. There has been a real spirit of co-operation and commitment to restarting jury trials, recognising the extreme importance of reducing delays for those involved. “

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