Jury trials will take place in Scottish cinemas to shift backlog of cases

High Court trials restarted last month in Edinburgh and Glasgow, having been paused during the pandemic.

Juries will hear trials remotely from cinema complexes under plans to increase the number of cases heard during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) said the move follows the success of the "remote jury" model used by the High Court in Edinburgh, where juries have been observing trials by video link from another courtroom because of physical distancing requirements.

The first major test was carried out in an Odeon cinema in Fort Kinnaird, Edinburgh.

High Court trials restarted last month in Edinburgh and Glasgow, having been paused during the pandemic.

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SCTS said successful tests have been run from a jury centre based in a cinema complex, during one of which a mock trial was conducted with a full jury of 15 people watching the proceedings.

It is now seeking to establish remote jury centres based in cinema complexes in the east and west of Scotland for at least 16 juries, with £5.5 million in financial support from Scottish Government.

Lady Dorrian, chairwoman of the restarting solemn trials working group, said: "The beauty of this solution is that it preserves the 15-person jury trial and will allow us, in time, to raise business in the High Court to a level that will start to address the growing backlog of cases.

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"The working group took a long, hard look at the lessons learned from the two-court and three-court model currently in use to run a small number of trials.

"It was clear that the remote jury model does work and, if suitable external venues could be identified, it would be possible to run a much higher number of trials, making full use of the courtrooms we have available for the trials."

The target is to open the jury centres, which will be managed and staffed by SCTS, in the autumn.

Eric McQueen, chief executive of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, said: "The great advantage of these remote jury centres is that they provide, in a single building, a number of spacious and soundproofed auditoria that can comfortably accommodate 15 physically-distanced jurors, combined with state-of-the-art secure technology.

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"It also means we have a model that can be replicated at various sites around the country."

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said work is ongoing to consider what further actions may be needed to address the backlog of cases and for remote jury centres to be further rolled out for sheriff and jury cases.

He said: "As we continue to move out of lockdown we need new thinking and collaboration to deliver jury trials in line with public health requirements.

"Lord Justice Clerk Lady Dorrian's working group and the courts service should be commended for finding and delivering a ground-breaking solution that significantly increases High Court capacity to make up to 16 jury-rooms available while importantly adhering to physical distancing rules.

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"Our £5.5 million funding of this scheme not only allows serious criminal cases to proceed but also provides reassurance to victims, witness and accused who have been adversely affected by case delays. "

Ronnie Renucci QC, vice-dean of the Faculty and the President of the Scottish Criminal Bar Association, welcomed the "radical solution" and praised the SCTS for their "hard work, innovative thinking and expertise".

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