Justice secretary told to take action on lack of jury trials in Scottish islands
Orkney MSP Liam McArthur has written to the justice secretary, demanding the Scottish Government take action on the lack of jury trials in the islands.
GeoAmey has the contract for escorting prisoners to and from the sheriff courts. However, for the past few weeks the firm has not been able to do this in the islands because of staffing issues.
This has led to trials which would otherwise have been heard in the islands being moved to Inverness, Peterhead or Aberdeen instead.
Mr McArthur has now written to justice secretary Angela Constance asking for the Government to intervene and get jury trials back up and running in Kirkwall.
Speaking on BBC Good Morning Scotland, Mr McArthur said: “There are implications for the accused, witnesses, victims and the lawyers seeking to represent their clients. This is a loss of access to justice for those in the island and rural areas.
“This is something I’ve raised with the justice secretary and I am looking for steps to be taken so jury trials can continue in Kirkwall.”
In July, The Scotsman reported lawyers were facing “major delays” of over eight hours in courtrooms across the country because of this very issue.
GeoAmey came under fire from legal professionals for the “inadequate service” they were providing on behalf of the Government, and the Law Society of Scotland called for urgent action to be taken to resolve the disruption.
At the same time Sheriff Principal Pyle said future jury trials in Stornoway, Lerwick, Kirkwall, Portree and Lochmaddy sheriff courts would no longer be happening because of staffing shortages.
New jury trials in Stornoway, Lerwick, Kirkwall, Portree and Lochmaddy have instead been sent to Inverness, Aberdeen or Peterhead sheriff courts on the mainland.
Existing jury trials in Lochmaddy and Portree were also sent to Inverness, although scheduled jury trials in Stornoway and Lerwick continued as normal.
A spokesman for the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service said it was working to minimise the impact.
A spokeswoman for the government said the Scottish Prison Service is closely monitoring the contract with GeoAmey and is working to reduce any disruption to the court service.
They added: “They are also supporting GeoAmey to improve their staff recruitment and retention to meet the current and future demand for service.”
Meanwhile a spokesman for GeoAmey said: “We are supportive of this temporary operational change that facilitates ongoing discussions with all stakeholder partners on how to fulfil our shared ambition to improve service to the courts and broader judicial system.
“There can be significant logistical challenges when persons in custody require individual supervision and travel from the mainland to remote locations.”
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.