A leading Aberdeen solicitor has called on courts to focus their efforts on finding alternative venues to get high court trials going again in the city.
And Stuart Murray, president on the Aberdeen Bar Association, has urged the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service to look at what venues could be used for a similar approach in Aberdeen.
He said: “It is encouraging to see that jury trials are about to commence in both Edinburgh and Glasgow, by utilising cinemas and allowing jurors to view trials remotely.
“I understand that the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service have entered into a contract with Odeon cinemas, to allow this to happen. It is unfortunate however that Odeon do not operate a cinema in Aberdeen.
“I would urge the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service to focus their efforts on seeking alternative venues in Aberdeen, in order to allow the high court to return to the city.”
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “I’m very pleased to see the excellent progress that has been made on this ground breaking solution, allowing more jury trials to get under way in the current very difficult circumstances. Next week represents a significant milestone for our criminal justice system, as we will see the commencement of the first trial using the jury centre in Edinburgh. I am very grateful to all those involved in the court service and across Scotland’s justice system in getting to this point.
“The Scottish Government has provided £5.5 million funding for these remote High Court jury centres which allow many of the most serious criminal cases to proceed, providing assurance to victims, witnesses and accused who have been adversely affected by case delays due to the many challenges presented by Covid-19.
“Work is ongoing to consider what further actions may be required to address the backlog of criminal cases in a way which safeguards the interests of both public health and of justice.”
The trial next week is the first stage of what is expected to be further use of remote jury centres. The location and what type of venue used is still under consideration.
Tim Barraclough, director of the Judicial Office for Scotland, said: “The key priority remains to provide justice in a safe environment. The Restarting Solemn Trials Working Group, chaired by Lady Dorrian, was greatly assisted by representatives from across the justice and third sectors, and thanks goes out to them all for their commitment to ensure that justice is delivered safely.
“It has been an excellent collaborative effort, and the SCTS staff have been working extremely hard to ensure that the vision is delivered.”
Ronnie Renucci QC, vice-dean of faculty and the president of the Scottish Criminal Bar Association, member of the Working Group, said: “The use of cinemas as remote jury centres is an innovative and unique solution to the problem of conducting jury trials during the present restrictions.
“More importantly it is a workable solution that allows jury trials to proceed at a sustainable level, which should prevent the present backlog rising further. The SCTS are to be commended for their efforts in putting the vision of Lady Dorrian’s recommendations into practice and the Scottish Government for providing the means to make it possible.
“The Scottish Criminal Bar welcomes and applauds the vibrant return to full-scale criminal trials that the innovative jury centre solution represents. Remote jury centres break new ground and will be of the keenest interest to other nations wrestling with the havoc wreaked by Covid on adversarial justice systems around the world.”
Crown agent David Harvie, chief executive of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, said: “The opening of these jury centres is an important step which will allow for the number of High Court trials held to come back up to pre-pandemic levels.
“Work across the justice system on tackling the accumulated case load continues, and innovative measures such as this will bring real benefits for people who are waiting for cases to come to trial.”