Leader comment: Bring on digital courts

STV made television history when it became the first broadcaster in the UK to televise a Scottish court hearing live and in full in 2015. Picture Lesley Donald

STV made television history when it became the first broadcaster in the UK to televise a Scottish court hearing live and in full in 2015. Picture Lesley Donald

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The courts in this country have a reputation for being bastions of tradition, and it is easy to see why so much store is set in continuity of values and treatment when it comes to upholding the law. But there is a place for change, and the changes that are now being mooted for the courts system are welcome.

There is no doubt that the courts are under pressure and delays are both costly and inconvenient. There is no fundamantal reason why more cannot be made of video evidence, after all in certain circumstances giving evidence by video link is allowed now, so why not make more of it?

What might seem a further stretch is the idea that some hearings could be conducted online. But many people now conduct business meetings online on various platforms in an effort to cut costs and be more efficient – it is a part of modern life that the courts would do well to make use of.

The proposals from the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service (SCTS) are actually quite conservative, talking only about parts of summary criminal proceedings – less serious criminal offences heard in front of a sheriff or justice of the peace with no jury – and court hearings still being used for contested pre-­trial preliminary pleas or issues.

And the suggestion that trial dates and witness citation should only be set after the entire case management process, meaning fewer people would be called to appear, would be an end to much frustration.

It is absolutely the case that the courts have not kept up with the huge step-change in modern technological innovation, and there can be no doubt there are many benefits to be gained.

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