Scottish courts service calls for ‘digital transformation’

Craig Bannatyne appeared in court to admit indecency offences.
Craig Bannatyne appeared in court to admit indecency offences.
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Criminal court hearings could be held online as part of radical plans to shake up Scotland’s justice system.

The Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service (SCTS) has called for a “digital transformation”, with all pre-trial procedures completed remotely unless pleas are contested.

A proposal paper published today even suggests that sentencing in some cases could be done online.

The SCTS carried out a review of its services after an Audit Scotland report found that some court practices are still essentially Victorian and rely heavily on paper documentation.

“It is fair to say that our summary criminal court procedure has not kept pace with innovation,” said SCTS chief executive Eric McQueen.

“Our criminal courts, with their origins in the Victorian times, still rely heavily on paper transactions, postal-based practices and bringing people together in a court room for procedural hearings and trials, many months after an incident.”

The paper suggests that digital evidence should “become the norm”, but the most radical proposals would lead to far fewer appearances in court of the accused.

Those who have pled guilty, for example, should be able to receive their sentence electronically - if the sheriff or judge believes it to be appropriate.

All pre-trial procedures could also be carried out online.

There are at present 43 courts operating in Scotland - 39 sheriff and justice of the peace courts, three dedicated high courts in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, and the Court of Session.

Since 2010, 17 sheriff and JP courts have closed, 10 court buildings shut, and seven JP courts disestablished.

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