Reducing the Criminal Trials Backlog

Mar 19, 2021

The Criminal Justice Board is developing proposals to recover, renew and transform Scotland’s justice system in the wake of the extensive disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is now a significant backlog of criminal cases and with the ongoing physical distancing restrictions, cases are taking longer to come to trial and the number of people held on remand has increased. This creates downstream impacts on community justice services and prisons.

The Recover, Renew, Transform programme aims to ensure that our recovery efforts and future investment are targeted towards a shared vision of a transformed justice system, underpinned by the principles of fairness, equity and respect.  

The multi-year programme will focus on:

  • Recover – returning to pre-pandemic capacity and addressing backlogs across the whole system;
  • Renew – prioritising the resolution of cases at the earliest opportunity and embedding new ways of working; and
  • Transform – changing outcomes for those affected by the criminal justice system.

The recovery element of the programme is supported by £50 million cross-justice funding announced by the Scottish Government in its recent budget. This will provide the necessary resources for the courts, COPFS, Legal Aid, Police, Community Justice, Prisons and third sector support services to commence the recovery programme.

As a first step, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service has announced plans to commence a court recovery programme from September 2021, which will include the expansion of remote jury centres and a daily increase of:

  • 4 additional High Courts;
  • 2 additional Sheriff Solemn Courts;
  • Up to 10 Sheriff Summary Courts.

With these resources, SCTS modelling predicts that the backlog of High Court and Sheriff Solemn cases will be cleared by 2025, with summary trial backlogs being cleared by 2024. Modelling reports are published today which illustrate the effect that COVID-19 has had on court backlogs and the impact of the recovery programme. There is no proposal for weekend trial courts within these recovery plans.

Eric McQueen, Chief Executive, Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service said:

“The recovery proposals were recently discussed at a roundtable meeting involving the Criminal Justice Board, the legal profession, the third sector and members of the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee, who brought collective insight into the challenges faced by the justice system as well recognising the progress made to date in responding to COVID-19.

“Collaboration across the whole justice system has already returned both the High Court and Sheriff Court jury trials to pre-COVID capacity, which is an incredible achievement.

“As lockdown restrictions ease, our attention is focussed on returning summary criminal business to pre-Covid levels and tackling the backlogs across all courts which impacts on complainers, witnesses and the accused.

“This funding announcement is an important first step and we are moving quickly to prepare for additional courts, with the aim of starting the recovery programme in September 2021. At all times safety for everyone in our courts and remote jury centres will remain our top priority and the pace of the recovery programme must be aligned to continued progress on vaccination and Covid transmission rates.”


 The Criminal Justice Board is a sub-group of the Justice Board for Scotland and includes representation from Scottish Government, Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, Scottish Prison Service, Police Scotland, Scottish Legal Aid Board and Community Justice Scotland.


COVID-19 Court Recovery Modelling March 2021

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