New images have revealed how juries will follow court proceedings – from the comfort of a nearby cinema – when trials resume next week.
High Court and sheriff and jury-level trials came to an abrupt halt last March when the coronavirus pandemic took hold in Scotland.
In Aberdeen no jury trials have been held since then, but as of next week they are set to resume – with juries following trials from the socially-distanced safety of the Vue cinema next door.
And now new images have revealed how the new remote jury centres will look.
All 15 jurors will be spaced out across the cinema, with a video link to the courtroom itself displayed on the big screen.
Meanwhile high-tech cameras are trained on each jury member, with their image being beamed live to newly-installed screens in the courtroom so that lawyers and the sheriff or judge can see them.
Microphones are also being installed in courtrooms to ensure sound is picked up and played through the high-tech cinema audio system.
Solicitors have been impressed with the set-up
Lawyers and court staff have been given tours of the new facility at the cinema and the set-up in the courtrooms, with feedback resoundingly positive.
Solicitor Iain Hingston, of Hingston’s Law, said he was impressed with the remote jury centre.
He said: “What is absolutely clear is that a huge amount of work and thought has gone into it. I think that’s because we’re perhaps the last jury centre to be set up, as I understand it.
“Everything, therefore, in terms of the presentation, works smoothly.
“I have to say I was thoroughly impressed with it. The screen quality is excellent.
“One of the main problems for courts regularly for jurors is things being heard. I don’t think that will be a problem in this situation.
“There are microphones across numerous parts of the court and you’re using a cinema soundscape, so sound is picked up very easily.
“I was really very impressed.
“I didn’t really know what to expect, but what stood out to me is that it was better than we thought it would be.
“Everything is different for lawyers. We’re going to have to learn slightly different techniques because in jury trials one is presenting to human beings and looking them in the eye, and that is removed when the jury is remote.
“But sitting where we were in the cinema, we were able to see the courtroom, able to see the sightlines so we know what cameras to look at and so on.
“Obviously until we try it, we don’t know, but certainly a lot of the question my colleagues and I had for my part my fears were largely assuaged and I think we should be optimistic about it.”
Mr Hingston added the resumption of jury trials was “massive”.
He said: “In terms of the administration of justice, getting through the business and giving people a conclusion to what is always a worrying and frightening time then it’s essential and I think everyone involved should be commended.”
Gregor Kelly, a partner at Lefevre Litigation, said: “I was most impressed with the arrangements in place for the jury prior to the recommencement of trials next week.
“The technology looks state-of-the-art and should ensure the jurors from city and shire can perform their civic duty in safety.
“I have a jury trial next week and I am looking forward to being part of the judicial process rather than watching it on Netflix!”
President of the Aberdeen Bar Association, Stuart Murray said: “The High Court is due to make a welcome return to Aberdeen next week and solicitors have now had an opportunity to visit the Vue cinema and see how the remote jury trials will operate for both the High Court and Sheriff and Jury trials.
“Whilst the virtual trial system should never be allowed to become the norm, it is a positive step forward in allowing those more serious of offences to be progressed. Hopefully this progression should serve to allay some of the stresses and concerns which have been hanging over the heads of complainers, witnesses and accused alike.
“Significant steps have been taken by the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service to ensure that all those who are to attend Court, will be looked after and kept safe.
“We are hopeful that the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service can now take steps to put the appropriate PPE measures in place, to allow Summary Trials to recommence as soon as possible.”
David Fraser, executive director of court operations, previously said: “We recognise the concern and impact on the accused, victims and witnesses of any further delay in jury trials. The remote jury centres were designed to operate during Covid, ensuring jury trials can continue while restrictions are in place.
“The jury centres are large ventilated spaces, with physical distancing for jurors at all times and are fully equipped with all the necessary precautions of face coverings, hand washing facilities and sanitisers.
“While we know that there are concerns at this time, we have strictly followed Public Health Scotland’s guidance to make these new centres as safe as possible. Having juries remote from courts enables physically distanced trials to proceed with the same health, safety and security measures available to all court users.
“Our videos available on our website illustrate well all the measures jurors, witnesses and participants can expect and we would urge those called to serve as jurors or as witnesses to attend. Restrictions on travelling or attendance do not apply to those attending our courts or remote jury centres.”
The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) has also created a video to show jurors what to expect.