COVID-19 Update

Apr 14, 2020

While the doors of our buildings were closed over the Easter holiday period, it wasn’t a holiday for many of our staff or judiciary.  All ten Sheriff Courts dealt with custody hearings throughout Saturday and our digital team worked tirelessly throughout the weekend to configure new systems and set up remote devices in judges’ homes.

Using the CISCO WebEx video conferencing platform, Court of Session Inner House appeals will recommence from 21st of April. Operating as a virtual court, with a three-judge bench, two channels will be available to each party for counsel and instructing solicitors. In supporting access to justice, multiple channels will also be available to media and interested persons to view the entire virtual court proceedings. With initial configuration and internal testing complete, parties involved in the first appeal hearings will be invited to take part in testing and familiarisation over the next few days. This approach is an exciting opportunity to get appeal business moving in the current situation, with the potential for long term benefits in a new business-as-usual world, whenever that may be.

At the same time, we are increasing our capability for judges and clerks in the Outer House to work remotely and will be issuing further information later this week on restarting priority areas of Outer House business using telephone conference facilities.

In the Sheriff Court we are now 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. We will also introduce video links for legal representation in custody trials. This will be rolled out on 21st of April and full guidance will be published this week.

Civil business in the Sheriff Courts is currently limited to urgent and necessary cases during the lockdown period. The courts are making use of telephone conferencing to support urgent business and continue to encourage the use of written submissions.  A similar approach is being taken across the work of the devolved tribunals, where essential hearings of the Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland continue to take place via telephone conference.

As our capacity for remote working grows, we are keen to look at how business can be advanced through paper submissions, the creation of digital bundles and the use of remote telephone conferencing.

We are in discussion with the Law Society on what areas of business would be most appropriate to prioritise and what criteria should apply to identify those cases that could be advanced while we remain in the lock down period.

SCTS Chief Executive Eric McQueen, said:

“The Faculty of Advocates and the Law Society are rightly both challenging and collaborative in helping to find solutions. The measures we are putting in place this week are a big step forward, however, while we remain in lock down, any steps must be proportionate to the requirement to protect public health.

“Since social distancing measures and the effective lockdown of our communities came into place three weeks ago, everyone’s daily lives have changed dramatically. We do not know how long this will last, but we do know that it is critical to delay the spread of the virus, to protect the NHS and most importantly to save lives.

“My priorities remain protecting our staff, the judiciary and wider courts and tribunal users, while maintaining public confidence that the essential justice services we are responsible for can continue.”


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