Extending Virtual Summary Trials in Scotland

Jul 03, 2020

Following the success of virtual trials in Aberdeen and Inverness, Sheriff Principal Derek Pyle has recommended the use of virtual courts as a necessity for summary criminal cases.

In his report, Summary Criminal Virtual Trial Pilot: The Way Ahead, published today (3 July 2020), he said: “As a pillar in the effective administration of justice, it is recommended that the aim should be that virtual trials become the default method of judicial determination in summary crime.” 

To keep momentum going in Grampian, Highland and Islands, Sheriff Principal Pyle is already working with the Crown and defence agents to extend the use of virtual trials across the Sheriffdom while examining the full extent to which virtual trials can be used during Coronavirus and in the future.  

His report recommends that virtual trials should be rolled out across the country in the autumn, to allow time for engagement and training, and discussions are now underway with Sheriffs Principal, COPFS, The Law Society of Scotland and Victim Support Scotland. 

Sheriff Principal Pyle acknowledges that the success of the virtual trials in Grampian, Highland and Islands was down to all the parties involved embracing the concept of virtual courts with commitment and enthusiasm. This approach will need to be replicated as virtual summary trial preparation begins across Scotland. 

The Lord President, Lord Carloway said in a statement last week:  “The justice system in Scotland, in common with jurisdictions across the globe, has been forced to adapt, learn, respond and innovate within a matter of weeks. Virtual courts should, and now will be viewed as core components of the justice system, rather than short term, stop gaps alternatives to appearance in the courtroom.”


  • A copy of Sheriff Principal Pyle’s report is available at
  • Summary trial are able to proceed in court at this time, but with the consequences of social distancing, courtroom accommodation is under pressure which will intensify as arrangements for solemn procedures are introduced.
  • The first summary trial was held in Inverness on 9 June. Fiscal, defence agent and witnesses attended remotely. The Sheriff presided from chambers. The accused appeared from a video facility at court.

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