Scotland's new justice secretary refuses to put date on clearing court backlog

The Scottish Government is focused on reducing the court backlog “as far as possible” in coming years rather than setting a firm date for it to be cleared, Scotland’s new justice secretary has said.

Keith Brown speaking at a remote jury centre in a cinema in Edinburgh, refused to put a date on when the government hopes to have cleared the court backlog that has been exacerbated by Covid-19.

In March, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service said the process could take until at least 2025, but Mr Brown said people could “only make estimates” about when the backlog could be cleared.

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The Scottish Government plans on expanding the remote jury centre experiment first started in August under former justice secretary Humza Yousaf as a way to keep the courts moving during the pandemic.

Cabinet Secretary for Justice Keith Brown toured a remote jury centre to see the work being done to address a courts backlog. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

The new justice minister added that key innovations from the remote jury centre system would be rolled out further in the hope it would reduce the backlog faster.

Asked when the backlog would be cleared, Mr Brown said: “People can only make estimates on that right now. I think I am more concentrating on the fact how can we reduce that backlog.

"I think there are some innovations here which even small things, you can take 15 minutes less to clear the court and things like that, and also the way that people give evidence, it is starting to show up some real innovations.

“I know having spoken with the Lord President, Lord Carloway, that he is very keen to see these innovations brought forward. We’ve put £50 million into the system already, we will see a further expansion in September, all of that is trying to reduce that backlog.

“Rather than say it is going to take ‘X’ number of years, I just want to try and see if we can reduce it as far as possible.”

Mr Brown said the decision to open remote jury centres allowed the Scottish courts system to continue moving during the pandemic, saying that a continued requirement for juries to be in courtrooms would “clog up the system”.

He said: “If we didn’t have juries remotely, we couldn’t use them in the courts, that would really clog up the system.

“We are sometimes operating at 106 per cent of what we were before, so we are starting to see at least in these criminal solemn cases some evidence of motoring forward.

“It is more to do with the fact that we have kept it going when it wouldn’t have gone, but we are now going to see in September an expansion at various levels of the court system, which should help as well.”

Asked whether the Scottish Government would review its approach to the courts system due to the backlog existing prior to Covid-19 and growing, rather than appearing, during the pandemic, Mr Brown said consultations would be launched on key issues in line with the SNP’s manifesto.

He said: “There are a number of things we have committed to in our manifesto which are going to be about how the system works, even things like not proven, size of juries, is all going to be consulted on.

“Some of the innovations which the pandemic has thrown up can be used to help address longer-term issues.”

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