Courts and Tribunals – Moving Beyond ‘Level 0’

Jul 14, 2021

The First Minister confirmed yesterday that Scotland would move to Level 0 on Monday 19 July, with the intention of moving beyond Level 0 from Monday 9 August, subject to continued progress with the vaccination programme.  While the vaccine gives us real hope and is breaking the link between case numbers and hospitalisation, the First Minister stressed that this is the time for continued caution. Baseline safety measures, including mandatory face coverings, will remain in place as a gradual approach to the easing of restrictions is taken.

Throughout the pandemic the SCTS response has been guided by our key priorities, which remain in place:

  • support the public health response – protecting the life and safety of all justice system users, the judiciary and staff;
  • maintain the operation of those parts of the system regarded as essential; and
  • maintain core operations so far as possible – to support the most effective recovery.

The current safety measures in our courts and tribunals, including 2 metre physical distancing, were designed to operate at all levels from 0 to 4.  These measures are well understood by all users, supported by clear guidance and by visible signage throughout all our buildings.  Therefore, we will not be making any immediate changes in the relatively short period between 19 July and 9 August.

Once Scotland moves beyond Level 0, we will take cautious steps in adapting our approach to maximise both safety and throughput of business.

From 9 August onwards:

  • While physical distancing regulations are due to be lifted at this stage, there remains a need for organisations to consider physical distancing requirements in particular settings.  Maintaining distance in a crowded environment remains an effective mitigation against transmission of the virus and we will encourage everyone to respect personal space by introducing 1m physical distancing in all our buildings.
  • General public access to our buildings will continue to be restricted at this time and public counters will remain closed.  This will ensure that we can manage overall footfall and conduct the highest levels of business in a safe environment.
  • The move to 1m physical distancing will:
      – allow more multi-accused trials to take place;
      –  increase summary trial loadings, allowing more witnesses to safely attend, ensuring that trial courts can get through more business;
      –  provide vulnerable witnesses with enhanced support; and
      –   allow more family members of victims and accused to attend solemn trials.
  • Mandatory wearing of face coverings will continue to be required in line with our current guidance.
  • A range of robust baseline safety measures will remain in place to encourage good hand hygiene, maintain enhanced surface cleaning – especially of high touch-point areas – and maintain good ventilation.
  • Our “Safe2Go” contact system will be maintained, requiring all those visiting our buildings to check-in and check-out using the system.

 At this time our  Guidance for court and tribunal users who need to come to our buildings is unchanged as is our Guidance for Supreme Courts and Guidance for Sheriff Courts and Justice of the Peace Courts.  These documents will be reviewed in advance of 9 August, in order to reflect any changes required from that date.

Moving beyond Level 0 will support the court recovery programme, with an additional 16 solemn and summary trial courts running daily across the country from September.  In addition we will continue to utilise the emergency legislation and the innovative approaches developed during the pandemic to maximise case throughput, including: 

  • Remote Jury Centres, which increase our safe operating capacity and will help tackle backlogs in the most serious cases;
  • The suspension of physical attendance (except in relation to criminal trial diets or where otherwise directed by the court or tribunal), use of electronic signatures and electronic submission of case papers – reducing unnecessary footfall in court buildings and the need for both travel and paper;
  • Making increasing use of fully virtual custody courts, virtual summary trials and pre-intermediate diet meetings; and
  • Conducting the majority of civil court and tribunals business virtually – freeing up physical court space to focus on criminal case backlogs and civil and tribunal cases requiring in-person hearings.

As has been the case throughout the pandemic we will keep our approach and guidance under review.  Reviews will take place during September and October, considering the public health advice at that point and its implications for the measures we have in place – including the need to restrict public access to buildings.

We would like to thank everyone for their continuing commitment and flexibility as we take further careful steps towards normality.  In taking a cautious approach to the relaxation of restrictions we can ensure that everyone who uses our buildings can continue to feel safe – while focusing on increasing business throughput to address case backlogs.

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