Jan 11, 2021

As a result of the increasing spread of the new variant of COVID-19 across Scotland, the Lord President has announced that during the lockdown period the criminal courts will focus on the most serious trials and the majority of summary trials in the Sheriff Court and Justice of the Peace Court will be adjourned.  This will reduce the overall number of criminal trials taking place during lockdown by up to 75%.

New arrangements will be introduced in Scotland’s courts from tomorrow, in order to support the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic at this critical time.  These will significantly reduce the number of people required to attend court in person, whilst ensuring that the most essential business is maintained in the interests of justice and the safety of those involved.

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service has very clear guidance from Public Health Scotland on the measures that are required to minimise the potential transmission of the virus and on how the courts can continue to operate safely under the current restrictions.  Court buildings and court rooms adhere strictly to that guidance.  While there is an increased risk of transmission from the new variant of COVID across the wider community, the clinical advice has remained that, provided the FACTS guidance is followed, the working environment is as safe as possible.

Nonetheless, the position across the country as a whole has changed over the last week, requiring us to review our position. On Friday we discussed the rapid spread of the new COVID-19 variant with senior public health officials in the Scottish Government.  With their advice and the recognition that we have taken all the right steps in making our buildings safe, we have determined that we should focus on the most essential business to reduce travel, overall footfall and physical interaction in our courts and therefore support the public health response at this critical time.

As a result all our courts will remain open but we are taking immediate steps to reduce the numbers attending from tomorrow, Tuesday 12 January.

The Lord President has been clear in setting business priorities.  All criminal jury trials in the High Court and Sheriff Court must continue.  These will focus on the most serious cases, where people are in custody and where the nature of the alleged offence, including sexual offences and offences involving domestic abuse and children, demand that priority be given.

From tomorrow all new custody cases and summary custody trials in the Sheriff courts and Justice of the Peace courts will proceed.  All non-custody trials will be administratively adjourned, with the provision to accelerate priority or urgent trials, such as those involving allegations of domestic abuse or child witnesses. A number of procedural hearings will also be administratively adjourned.

All criminal appeals, the Bail Appeal Court, Office of the Public Guardian and Tribunals will continue to operate virtually and remotely, as they have been doing throughout the pandemic.

Similarly the vast majority of all civil business in the Court of Session and Sheriff Court will continue to be conducted remotely.  This includes the All Scotland Personal Injury Court (ASSPIC) and the Sheriff Appeal Court (SAC).

The following guidance sets out in more detail the arrangements which will apply in order to reduce attendance levels.  Our current planning assumption is that these arrangements will remain in place until 28 February – although this will be kept under regular review with a formal review planned for 15 February, in light of the public health situation.  The effect of these measures will be to significantly reduce the level of business currently being conducted in person in the courts, focusing on the most serious and sensitive cases only at this time.



Witnesses cited to attend either the Sheriff Court for a summary trial or the Justice of the Peace Court for a summary trial from tomorrow, Tuesday 12 January, should not attend unless they are contacted directly by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).


Jurors and witnesses cited to appear for a High Court or Sheriff Court Solemn trial (this means jurors attending a remote jury centre) should continue to do so.  These facilities have been specifically designed to provide a safe environment for jurors during the pandemic – and support the administration of justice in relation to the most serious criminal cases.


factsSMIn those cases that will continue to be heard at this time, physical distancing can and must be maintained at all times.  In recognition of the fact that a number of individuals may need to be present in a courtroom, the Lord President has introduced the requirement for face coverings to be worn whilst in court rooms, as an additional measure – over and above the need to fully observe the FACTS advice – full face covering guidance in court is available here.


Minimising face-to-face meetings within court buildings reduces the risk of transmission.  Where possible consultations should take place outwith the court estate.  However, it is acknowledged there may be occasions where it is not possible to consult or take instructions on a particular matter in advance of the day of a court hearing.

Where client instruction or consultation is required during a court hearing, an adjournment can be sought.  Where it is required prior to a court hearing, we will do our best during this period to facilitate local arrangements, using currently unoccupied accommodation.


Throughout the pandemic we have been guided by Public Health advice and have ensured that our facilities meet the standards required for non-healthcare settings allowed to operate at this time.  Those visiting our buildings in the coming days will notice new, refreshed, signage that has been installed – to help remind us all of the need to observe the arrangements in place. A safe working environment is a combination of the facilities and the way in which we all use them. We are relying on everyone to redouble their efforts to help keep us all safe. If you have any queries about the arrangements we have in place – and the steps we need everyone to take so that they work – please read our detailed guidance for court and tribunal users during coronavirus

We appreciate that these measures represent a further significant change to court business but, in view of the current circumstances, we believe this is the right approach to take.

While there is an increased risk of transmission from the new variant, the clinical advice remains that, provided the FACTS guidance is followed, our working environment is as safe as possible.  Following that guidance to the letter is even more important at this stage – as the virus worsens but the solution of a vaccine comes into view. 

At the outset SCTS set out three priorities for an effective response to the pandemic.  These have not changed – and remain to: 

  • Support the public health response to the outbreak – protecting the life and safety of all staff, court and tribunal users;
  • Maintain all essential business so far as possible – ensuring cases are not lost;
  • Minimise accumulation of case backlogs so far as possible – to facilitate the most effective recovery.

 At this point in time the changes we are making are necessary to effectively support the first of these priorities, whilst balancing elements of the others.  We would like to thank all court users, judiciary and staff for their continuing compliance at this exceptional time.  Together we can support justice – safely.

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