Scotland’s most senior judge has agreed that the use of remote juries in high court cases is a suitable solution to ensure the safety of those involved.
Lord Justice General, Lord Carloway, has agreed on a recommendation for the new approach for Scottish High Court jury trials that will create remote jury centres.
The Restarting Solemn Trials Working Group has also secured £5.5 million in funding from the Scottish Government for its recommendation, which will enable juries to participate in trials from venues other than court buildings and increase the number of trials taking place.
The move comes after successful trial of a “remote jury” model in Edinburgh High Court which allowed for all the courtrooms to be used to run trials instead of having to be limited to just one if following social distancing rules.
Lady Dorrian, Chair of the working group, commented: “The beauty of this solution is that it preserves the 15-person jury trial, and will allow us, in time, to raise business in the High Court to a level that will start to address the growing backlog of cases.
“The Working Group took a long hard look at the lessons learned from the two-court and three-court model currently in use to run a small number of trials.”
Dorrian added: “It was clear that the remote jury model does work, and, if suitable external venues could be identified, it would be possible to run a much higher number of trials, making full use of the courtrooms we have available for the trials.
“I’m very grateful to everyone on the group, and others who have provided feedback, for helping us develop such an exciting, imaginative but extremely practical solution.”
The coronavirus pandemic caused most trials to be put on hold after the dangers of the virus became clearer. The Scottish Government released guidelines on criminal trials in April in response to progressing serious criminal cases.
These guidelines recommended moves such as reducing the size of juries, attempting social distancing within existing court facilities and using larger, non-court locations “to facilitate social distancing”.
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Speaking before the Scottish Parliament, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf revealed details on the new remote juries, stating: “As we continue to move out of lockdown, we need new thinking and collaboration to deliver jury trials in line with public health requirements.
“Lord Justice Clerk Lady Dorrian’s working group and the court’s service should be commended for finding and delivering a ground-breaking solution that significantly increases High Court capacity to make up to 16 jury rooms available while importantly adhering to physical distancing rules..”
He added: “Our £5.5m funding of this scheme not only allows serious criminal cases to proceed but also provides reassurance to victims, witnesses and accused who have been adversely affected by case delays.
“Work is ongoing to consider what further actions may be required to address the backlog and for remote jury centres to be further rolled out for Sheriff and Jury cases.”
The target is for the new centres to open in the Autumn, although this is dependent on procurement timescales.