As Covid rules are eased, court restrictions across the north-east will begin to lift to allow more cases to be heard.
Lord Carloway, the Lord President, Scotland’s most senior judge, has announced that due to the vaccine rollout and the reduction of coronavirus cases, the courts can cautiously begin to ease the current restrictions.
The court system in Scotland is set to fully reopen following a reduction in Covid-19 transmission levels.
Due to the latest lockdown, criminal courts have focused on the most serious trials since January, with the majority of summary trials in sheriff and Justice of the Peace courts adjourned as part of the court restrictions.
From April 19, cited cases in sheriff courts will restart, with summary trial courts returning to their pre-January loads of three trials scheduled with two backup cases.
Justice of the Peace courts will restart all business from June 7.
All criminal jury trials in the High Court and sheriff court will continue as planned. All new custody cases and summary custody trials in the sheriff courts and Justice of the Peace courts will continue to be heard.
Solicitor Paul Barnett, of George Mathers and Co, said: “It’s certainly a relief that there are plans to start increasing the level of court business again.
“It’s now not at all uncommon for even summary cases to take longer than 18 months to come to a conclusion which isn’t fair on accused persons or witnesses.
“It has no doubt been very difficult for the justice system to strike a balance between safety and getting through the work, and I suspect it will take years to get the backlog down to pre covid levels.”
‘Good to get back to some level of normality’
And Peterhead-based defence solicitor Iain Jane, of Iain Jane & Co, also welcomed the move.
He said: “I’m happy with those arrangements and it will be good to get back to some level of normality.
“I don’t understand why though it is taking so long to get the Justice of the Peace court back up and running.”
Solicitor Mike Monro, a partner at Mackie and Dewar, said: “Cited cases restarting from April 19, that’s welcome obviously.
“The more trials we can get into court the better. In Aberdeen they have created new trial courts at the civil court on Queen Street, that is very welcome.
“The more trials we get through the better, for accused, complainers, witnesses, for everybody.”
Mr Monro, however, disagreed with part of the update from the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service which stated consultation with clients should take place outwith court “where possible”.
He added: “Anything that allows for cases to be proceeded with to their end earlier rather than later is to be welcomed, but it’s got to be looked at as to what the proper way to do it is.”
All High Court criminal and civil appeals and tribunals will continue to operate virtually and remotely, as they have been doing throughout the pandemic due to the court restrictions.
Court rooms will continue to have social distancing and face-covering measures in place.
Witnesses cited to attend the sheriff court for a summary criminal trial before April 19 should not attend unless they are contacted directly by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) or the solicitor acting for the accused.
After April 19, witnesses should attend as per their citations.
Remote jury centres will continue to be in operation, as they have been.