Using video links could cut court costs, say Scottish Labour

THE SCOTTISH Government is continuing to spend money on transporting prisoners to trial who could give evidence via video link, it has been claimed.

Contractors rack up many miles transporting prisoners. Picture: TSPL

Figures obtained by Scottish Labour show video technology has been used only 228 times in Scotland’s courts in 2015-16 to date, despite contractors travelling millions of miles every year transporting prisoners.

While current legislation prohibits video links being used in certain types of hearing, the Scottish Government has previously pledged to increase use of the technology to reduce costs and save time.

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Justice secretary Michael Matheson said moves were now under way to change the law to allow more hearings to be conducted via video link.

Graeme Pearson, Labour’s justice spokesman, said: “The SNP Government said they would make greater use of video technology in Scotland’s court system to improve our justice system. The reality is that they haven’t.

“This is increasing cost and strain on our justice system which has already suffered brutal cuts from the SNP government.”

Mr Pearson said the “thousands” of pounds spent on transporting prisoners to court looked like an “unnecessary waste”.

Figures from the Scottish Prison Service show contractors have racked up nearly four million miles this year transporting offenders around the country. Labour said the figure was likely to include thousands of miles “wasted” taking prisoners back and forth to courts to enter pleas.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Currently only certain court hearings can be conducted by video link but the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, passed this month provides for the technology to be used in a wider range of hearings. Video link will be used for prisoners only where appropriate and the technology is installed in courts for the benefit of a wide range of users including vulnerable witnesses and victims of crime.

“The opportunity to give evidence via video link was extended to all victims and witnesses aged under 17, and alleged victims of sexual offences, domestic abuse, human trafficking and stalking this year.

“We are encouraging the legal profession to adopt greater use of the equipment installed in prisons and courts for the benefit of vulnerable witnesses and victims of crimes, as well as, where appropriate, for prisoners.”