Court System (Backlog of Cases)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 24th June 2020.

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Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

7. To ask the First Minister what action is being taken to minimise the backlog of cases in the court system. (S5F-04251)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

We all recognise the devastating impact that delays and uncertainty can have on all those who are involved in civil and criminal court cases. In his statement to Parliament last week, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice outlined some of the measures that are being progressed and considered with stakeholders to address the backlog. I welcome all the work that is being done to resolve cases before a trial date is set, to make the best use of modern technology and to resume court business, including jury trials, with physical distancing in place. We are also working with the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service to explore options that safeguard the interests of justice and the health of all involved.

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

The delay in court cases is particularly challenging for victims of crime, those who are on remand and witnesses. It is important to make progress but to safeguard the important principle of fair justice. Will the progress that has been announced today allow more buildings within the court system to open? Will the Government consider reducing from 15 the number of members on a jury, in order to make headway with the backlog of cases?

The First Minister:

With the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, we will keep all those options under review. I agree with James Kelly that the backlog has to be cleared as soon as possible, for all the reasons that he cites. It is not in the interests of justice, of those who are accused of crime or of victims for there to be delays.

At the outset of the pandemic, when the first piece of coronavirus legislation was being put through, Parliament legitimately had a discussion about initial proposals that the Scottish Government made—which we then withdrew—to have solemn trials without juries. To be fair, I think that Parliament was right about that but, at the time, Humza Yousaf made clear that not taking that approach would have an implication later on. We are having to manage all that. The Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian, has been chairing a judicially led working group that is looking at how we take forward High Court jury trials and clear the backlog. We need to continue that work and make sure that, as we go along, all the different options, such as those that James Kelly cited, are kept under review.