Courts and Tribunals – Beyond 'level 0'

Aug 04, 2021

The First Minister confirmed yesterday that Scotland will move beyond level 0 COVID-19 restrictions from Monday 9 August. This marks welcome progress for the country, however the First Minister called on everyone to “continue to be careful, cautious and sensible”, adding that while the decline in case numbers and the vaccine programme are breaking the link with serious illness, the move beyond level 0 does not signal the end of the pandemic.

 We have previously announced the measures we intended to put in place for our courts and tribunals as we move beyond level 0 and these will now be implemented from Monday 9 August to maintain both safety and throughput of business.

 9 August and Beyond 

  • Maintaining distance in a crowded environment remains an effective mitigation against transmission of the virus. Whilst physical distancing regulations will be lifted from 9 August, we will encourage everyone to respect personal space by introducing 1m physical distancing in all our buildings.
  •  At the same time, our robust baseline safety measures will remain in place and we will continue to encourage good hand hygiene, maintain enhanced surface cleaning – especially of high touch-point areas – and maintain good ventilation.
  • The legal requirement for face coverings to be worn in our buildings will continue and our “Safe2Go” contact system will be maintained, requiring all those accessing our buildings to check-in and check-out using the system.
  •  In order to ensure that we can manage overall footfall and conduct the highest levels of business in a safe environment, general public access to our buildings will continue to be restricted and public counters will remain closed. 
  •  From 9 August rules in relation to “close-contact” self-isolation are changing for those who have had both doses of the vaccine. Provided at least two weeks have passed since your second dose you should self-isolate and book a PCR test.  If the result of that PCR test is negative you can stop self-isolating at that point.  Those displaying symptoms of COVID and those who have tested positive must continue to self-isolate in line with current guidance.
  •  We are updating our Guidance for court and tribunal users who need to come to our buildings and this will be published on our website on Friday 6 August.
  •  The existing guidance on arrangements for the business of the Supreme Courts remains in place.  There will be some minor updates to the Guidance for Sheriff and Justice of the Peace Courts.  This will also be published on Friday 6 August.
  •  We will continue to support home working arrangements where possible at this stage, in line with the advice issued by the First Minister yesterday. 

Moving beyond level 0 will support the court recovery programme, allowing us to safely increase capacity and start tackling the backlog that has developed as a consequence of the pandemic. This will also allow more multi accused trials to take place, more witnesses to safely attend and enable enhanced support to vulnerable witnesses.

To support recovery, there will be 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 those 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.

 The justice sector’s response to the pandemic has underlined how we can innovate at pace to meet new challenges. This has been achieved through strong collaboration with the legal profession and 3rd sector organisations. As we look to a post-pandemic world this collaboration will be vital to ensure that we continue to build on these innovative approaches to create modern progressive courts and tribunals that protect people’s rights and enhance access to justice.

In taking a cautious approach to the relaxation of restrictions we can ensure that all who work in, and use, our buildings can continue to do so safely.  The First Minister concluded her statement with the three key pieces of advice she has repeated throughout – get vaccinated if you can; keep following the common-sense safety, hygiene and testing measures; and, if you develop symptoms, self-isolate and book a test.  This advice becomes all the more important as restrictions relax and we would encourage everyone to keep following it.

 We would like to take this opportunity again to thank everyone for their ongoing commitment and flexibility as we take these further steps.  Our aim in managing the easing of restrictions is to ensure that everyone who uses our buildings can continue to feel safe – while simultaneously increasing business throughput to address case backlogs.


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