Trials to be paused during COP26 due to 'significant' impact on Police Scotland resources

Jury and summary trials across scores of courts in Scotland will grind to a halt during this autumn’s crunch climate change conference in Glasgow.

No summary trials will take place in sheriff courts or justice of the peace courts for a three week period surrounding the COP26 summit, with sheriff and jury trials also put on hold for a fortnight at the start of November.

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) said that the unprecedented scale and complexity of the United Nations conference, which is taking place in the city’s SEC campus, would have a “significant impact” on Police Scotland officers’ availability to attend court as witnesses.

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While the High Court will continue to sit, trials assigned for Glasgow during the first two weeks of November will be heard at sheriff courts outwith the city.

In a statement, the SCTS said that the courts will aim to deal with “as much business as possible” during the course of the summit, but noted that there will be “a significant impact on criminal business.”

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It comes as Scotland’s criminal justice system is already facing a lengthy backlog of cases as a result of disruption during the Covid-19 pandemic.

With cases taking longer to come to trial, and the number of people held on remand skyrocketing, the SCTS has set out plans for a dedicated recovery programme, beginning in September, which will include the expansion of remote jury centres and additional courts.

There will be extensive disruption to sheriff courts across Scotland during the conference. Picture: Michael GillenThere will be extensive disruption to sheriff courts across Scotland during the conference. Picture: Michael Gillen
There will be extensive disruption to sheriff courts across Scotland during the conference. Picture: Michael Gillen

However, even with the implementation of such measures, the delays in tackling the backlogs will still be lengthy.

The SCTS modelling predicts that the backlog of summary trials will not be dealt with before 2024, with another year before outstanding High Court and sheriff solemn cases are cleared.

Police Scotland announced last month that the safety and security operation for the conference is significant and will involve one of the biggest mobilisations of police assets the UK has ever seen.

Around 10,000 officers, drawn from divisions across Scotland, will be deployed each day, supported by a substantial number of colleagues from other UK police services as part of mutual aid arrangements. Police Scotland has described COP26 as “the most complex and complicated” event ever staged in Scotland.

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The SCTS said that based on experience from past events, there is “potential for disruption” during the summit. It added that it is putting place contingency plans to manage any additional custody business, which may include the roll-out of weekend custody courts in some locations, if required.

Procedural criminal courts will continue as normal during the conference and there is the potential for additional civil business to be dealt with, the SCTS said.

It went on: “SCTS are working with Police Scotland and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service to develop robust contingency measures and we will be engaging with wider justice partners in the coming weeks to ensure these measures are effective.”

More than 100 heads of state and at least 20,000 delegates are expected to descend on Glasgow for the summit, which is being held between 31 October and 12 November.

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