An Aberdeen sheriff has refused to deal with any more cases via video link and branded the technology “appalling”.
Since the coronavirus pandemic took hold, a number of court cases have been heard with the accused person appearing via video link from a police station or prison to limit interaction between people in bringing them to court.
The move has been controversial, with solicitors raising concerns about the system and the links not always working properly.
And yesterday Sheriff Graeme Napier announced to Aberdeen Sheriff Court he would no longer be dealing with cases via video link after suffering a particularly poor connection to HMP Grampian for a case, with loud, distorted, feedback when he tried to speak.
After struggling through to the conclusion of the case, Sheriff Napier said: “I’m not doing any more links by video. This is just appalling.”
When the court adjourned for lunch Sheriff Napier told a member of court staff: “I can’t deal with anything from prison by video link. It’s simply not working.”
When court resumed after lunch he announced: “I’m told we’re not doing full committals here because of the lack of technology.”
The full committal cases were moved to a different courtroom before a different sheriff.
Defence agent Alex Burn, who was the solicitor involved in the case which caused the issue, said: “In general terms I don’t like video links. Secondly, I thought Sheriff Napier was quite right.
“It’s unclear whether the accused fully understands what’s going on. I think everybody in court was left bemused by the poor performance of the technology, and it’s just unacceptable.
“People are entitled to know exactly what’s going on in court. I thought Sheriff Napier was absolutely right in taking the stance which he did.”
Mr Burn also called for video links to be scrapped in favour of accused persons in custody brought to court for proceedings.
He said: “I’m a firm believer in just bringing them here. GEOAmey have got a contract to bring them here. There’s no financial saving to anybody except GEOAmey and the shareholders. The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service doesn’t save any finances, the crown office doesn’t, nobody does, so just bring them.”
Solicitor Graham Morrison, a partner at Gavin Bain and Company, said: “I suppose it’s a necessity but it’s not perfect. They haven’t got the technology mastered yet.
“You never know if the accused at the other end is actually hearing what is going on. That’s one of the big issues.
“The feedback is pretty grim.”
Mike Monro, a partner at Mackie and Dewar, said: “When they work it’s fine, but when they don’t work it then just causes chaos in the system because you miss your time slot and you can be waiting for a long time with regard to it.
“The communication is not always of the best. The system is just not as good as it should be.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service said: “We can confirm that audio difficulties were encountered during a video link hearing being attended from prison by an accused person.
“Investigations into the cause of the problem are being carried out. A number of hearings were rescheduled but no business was lost.”