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Remote jury centres announced
Aug 14, 2020
He said: "I am very pleased to announce that I have accepted the bold and imaginative recommendation from the Restarting Solemn Trials Working Group for an innovative new approach for High Court jury trials in Scotland that will see the creation of remote jury centres.
"With funding of around £5.5 million from the Scottish Government, remote jury centres will enable juries to participate in trials from venues other than court buildings, such as specially adapted cinema complexes, which in turn will allow us to increase substantially the volume of trials taking place.
"The Working Group, which is chaired by the Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian, has made this recommendation after the success of its remote jury model in the High Court in Edinburgh. In that model, juries have been observing trials by a sophisticated two-way video link from another courtroom. A large screen gives the view the court has of the jurors observing the trial. This arrangement is necessary because the requirements of physical distancing makes it impossible for all the participants in a trial to gather in a single courtroom.
"At present, the need to use at least two courtrooms for a single trial severely limits our capacity to get business levels back to where they were before the pandemic struck. It is clear that action needs to be taken soon to bring the increasing backlog of cases under control. In terms of solemn criminal business it is estimated that there will be in the region of 750 High Court cases and 1800 sheriff court solemn cases outstanding by the end of August.
"The Lord Justice Clerk’s Working Group has therefore recommended that the remote jury approach be developed to allow juries to view proceedings from jury centres away from the court estate altogether. This will mean that, even with requirements for physical distancing in place, the High Court can use all the court rooms at its disposal to run trials.
"The Group very quickly came to the conclusion that using remote juries minimised the need to change the fundamentals of the trial process itself – changes which would be time-consuming and have uncertain outcomes. The group felt that using remote jury centres would maximise the prospects of returning trial capacity, as quickly as possible, to the pre COVID-19 levels of 16 trial courts in the High Court.
"There has already been very good progress in preparing for this next stage. The technology has already been shown to work within the High Court in Edinburgh. We have conducted successful tests from a jury centre based in a cinema complex. In one of these tests, a mock trial was undertaken with a full jury of 15 persons observing proceedings involving the judge, court staff, prosecution, defence, security and SCTS staff members playing the roles of accused and witnesses. The mock jury consisted of members of the working group and representatives from other justice sector and third sector organisations, whose feedback was used to refine and improve the model.
"As Lady Dorrian has said, the attraction of this approach is that it allows us to retain 15 person juries, whilst freeing up the capacity in the court estate that is required. There are also considerable advantages in using the kind of cinema complexes that have been used in testing. They provide a number of large, soundproofed auditoria under a single roof, with pre-existing IT infrastructure of the highest specification. If we need to expand this model further, then the template has been established. The SCTS has identified, with the assistance of the working group and others, a numbers of ways to fit these centres out so that they present in accordance with the serious nature of the business being conducted.
"The SCTS is now seeking to establish remote jury centres, based in cinema complexes in the East and West of Scotland to provide accommodation for at least 16 juries. This will allow us to bring business volumes back to pre-Covid levels. It is hoped that the first centres will be available for use later this year.
"I am very grateful to Scottish Ministers, and the Cabinet Secretary in particular, for their backing of the recommendation and their commitment of funding of up to £5.5 million for High Court cases. We will of course continue to discuss with them how best to extend this approach into the sheriff courts.
"I should also like to pay tribute to all the members of the Working Group, and the other organisations who have contributed to the development of this model, for their constructive and dynamic engagement in this work. There has been a collective and collaborative approach in designing a model that both makes the best use of this technology, and preserves the fundamental requirements of solemn procedure. We are breaking new ground, and learning very rapidly as we do so; but we are doing this with the constant aim to ensure the continuing safe and effective administration of justice."
14 August 2020