First jury trial since lockdown

The first jury trial in Scotland since lockdown ran smoothly this week making use of digital technology to support a remote jury.

The case held at the High Court in Edinburgh followed a new format adhering to physical distancing guidelines to ensure the safety of all participants.

The jurors were located in a room separate from the trial courtroom where they were physically distanced and able to watch proceedings on screens directly in front on them. The use of cameras enabled an image of each juror to be visible in the courtroom on a video wall that sat in what was previously the jury box.

At one point the trial was adjourned so that defence counsel Iain McSporran, QC, could speak to the accused privately at a safe physical distance.

Mr McSporran said: “The accused had a fair trial which worked very well. Any minor glitches were resolved immediately. I was really glad to be back at work and the success of this format was the result of the effort of many people including the judge, the counsel, the clerk and the jury. The Courts deserve our gratitude for the technological arrangements in place to allow jury trials to restart.”

When addressing the jury in their separate room, he said: “As the saying goes ‘I wish you were here’ but I am very glad that you are there.”

Prosecuting, Alex Prentice, QC, said: "Although it was a strange experience, the format was a success and I would like to pay tribute to the Court Service and all involved who put the package together. Physical distancing slowed the proceedings down a little and we had to remember to stand in a certain position to be seen by the camera, but that did not present a problem and the technology and the link to documents to the jury room worked very well. I would like to express my gratitude to the people who managed to make it happen.” 

A second trial is also running in the High Court in Glasgow with a different model using 3 courtrooms.

The trials were arranged following discussions of the Restarting Solemn Trials Working Group which is chaired by the Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian, and includes representatives from across the justice sector.

The Group is continuing to assess and develop ways to allow more solemn trials to take place in both the High Court and the sheriff courts, including identifying if there are any changes required to legislation and to rules of procedure to allow more use of digital solutions where appropriate.

Extensive risk assessments have taken place across Scotland to allow all court buildings to re-open and a guide for court and tribunal users has been published. 

Since lockdown began some business has incrementally moved into virtual courts including civil and criminal appeal hearings, Court of Session hearings, personal injury cases and a range of sheriff court civil cases. Virtual summary criminal trial pilots were successfully held in Inverness and Aberdeen and will be rolled out across other areas.

Read more.

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