Commenting on the Moving Beyond Level 0 briefing published by the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service, Law Society President, Ken Dalling, said: "Whilst I welcome the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service’s move to quickly circulate this update following the First Minister’s statement yesterday, I share the concerns of our Criminal and Civil Law Committees that the “next steps” plan does not go far enough towards fully re-opening our courts.
“Thankfully, we are no longer in a period of having to react to an unpredictable situation. We should now be working on how our justice system will look in the future. There have been some areas where the benefits of digital working have been delivered, such as electronic signing and electronic submission of case paper. But that does not mean that every element of digital/virtual working should be retained for the future. There are some key principles which must be considered and respected to ensure that long-term goals towards digitalisation are not expedited at the expense of efficient and effective systems which we know already work.
“Managing the criminal case backlog shouldn’t simply be a numbers game of how many cases can be processed. It is vital that the cases with added complexities are prioritised and resourced. Some of these will need in person hearings to resolve. This is likely to include cases involving accused who may be disadvantaged in a virtual setting, accused on long term remand or accused involved in multiple accused cases - which have largely been put on hold due to the pandemic – as well as cases with vulnerable witnesses. I am disappointed that more attention hasn’t been given to managing these issues within the plan.
“We have shared with the court service and others feedback from our members on the difficulties of effectively representing their clients virtually in some cases. At the future of civil business conference held in May we shared the results of a survey of civil solicitors which made clear that some court business, such as evidential hearings, need to return to in-person sessions as soon as possible. It is disappointing that this is not reflected in this next phase of court recovery.
“The Law Society remains committed to working with SCTS and other agencies within the justice sector to help shape what our courts look like as we move past the pandemic. Additionally, to ensure access to justice for all it is important that long-term changes to how court cases are conducted are reflected in legal aid fee structures. It is only by looking at these issues in the round, and with all relevant parties around the table, that we can create the innovative solutions needed to deliver a post-pandemic justice system for the people of Scotland.”