Prisoners at HMP Grampian have appeared in court and pled guilty to crimes via a live video link from jail for the first time.
The measures have been brought in as the courts try to cope with the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing.
Prisoners serving sentences or those on remand at HMP Grampian, instead of being brought from Peterhead to stand in the dock for hearings, appeared on TV screens in Aberdeen Sheriff Court yesterday in live images beamed in from a room in the superjail.
Some private cases, and cases involving those who may have coronavirus, are already being heard with the use of video links, but this is the first time the technology has been utilised for ordinary cases.
A spokesman for the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service said: “Currently all custodies confirmed or suspected of having coronavirus, or those claiming to have coronavirus, are being dealt with via video link from courts to police custody.
“With the involvement of all parties it is intended we continue to increase the numbers appearing via the link to the point where all custodies are conducted by video link.”
And as well as accused persons appearing virtually in courts, there are also plans for solicitors to be able to represent their clients over the phone and not in person at the court.
The spokesman added: “We are also piloting a system which will enable all legal representation for custody and remand cases to take place remotely using telephone links, removing the need for physical attendance by solicitors or accused.”
Defence agent Tony Burgess, who appeared representing clients who were using the live link, said: “I think for sentencing there’s no major issue with it. In the current circumstances it’s a favourable way of dealing with things for all concerned.”
Solicitor Alex Burn also had clients appearing on camera.
He said: “Ordinarily I don’t like video links because there’s been problems with them breaking down. Even now I had difficulty talking to my client and I had to go to a different room because the communication was breaking up.
“I can understand because of the Covid-19 situation we’ve just got to work with what we’ve got.”